When it comes to lobbyists hawking Canadian companies and their interests in Michigan's potential pot market, Rep. Michael Callton's not mincing words.
"There are a couple of Canadian companies that are (medical marijuana) providers for the country of Canada with very large central grows that have got their eye on us over here. They've talked to legislators. They've talked to me," he said during the February 5th broadcast of the Planet Green Trees Radio Show, featuring hosts Michael Komorn, Rick Thompson and Jamie Lowell.
At issue is the nature of the supply base in Michigan's medical marijuana marketplace. Currently any legal medical marijuana growing operation in the state cannot exceed 72 plants, but that model is a poor way for business interests to make serious money growing and selling cannabis to the state's sick and disabled. The state has approx. 120,000 registered patients and 20,000 Michigan residents called caregivers who are licensed and registered to grow cannabis on their behalf.
Consequently, business interests from around the United States and Canada are lining up to push Lansing legislators to allow mega-sized 'central grow' operations containing thousands of marijuana plants, which would be licensed by a select few. Interests have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence Michigan legislators, and Prairie Plant Systems even flew a cadre of lawmakers to a Canadian mega-marijuana growing operation.
"I do know there are some other legislators writing bills on behalf of some other interests that are interested in 'central grow,' but my bill is designed to take the marijuana, to buy it from the caregiver," Callton said.
His bill is known as the Provisioning Centers Act- formerly referred to by House designation HB 4271. Callton is re-introducing his bill for the 2015-16 legislative session during a press conference on Thursday. Who supplies the marijuana sold by the state's current 150+ semi-legal dispensaries- and the state-sanctioned Provisioning Centers that Callton's bill would create- is the bone of contention between state-based patient organizations and Lansing lobbyists, including Chuck Perricone and GCSI's Ken Cole.
Perricone represents giant agribusiness entity Prairie Plant Systems from Canada, who successfully pushed the Michigan legislature to pass the Pharmaceutical Grade Marihuana Act in 2013. The bill was expedited through the legislature in a lightning-fast three months thanks to its well-connected pair of sponsors, former Senators Roger Kahn and past Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville.
Once marijuana is federally removed from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances List, the Pharmaceutical Grade Marihuana Act would create a whole new system of marijuana growing and selling in Michigan that utilizes 'central grow'-style mega pot plantations and Walmart/Rite-Aid type big box pharmacies for distribution.
The whole concept of outsourcing pot growing to foreign interests is the opposite approach from the Provisioning Centers Act. "In my bill," Callton explained, "it is the intention that (distribution centers) buy their supply as overages from the caregivers. The Provisioning Center is supplied by overage."
Overage is the term used to describe the excess pot created by Michigan residents who qualify to become licensed and registered medical marijuana producers. "A caregiver can grow up to twelve plants for each patient," Jamie Lowell explained. "If that garden produces more than the patient needs, the caregiver can bring it to a distribution center for use by other patients. Without this system the overages would be diverted into a system that supports the black market and unregistered marijuana users." The current system in use by dispensaries all across Michigan is to acquire cannabis through the caregiver network, a program that has worked successfully since the medical marijuana program was written into law more than five years ago.
Callton outed the Canadians as manipulating the Michigan legislature to achieve a market advantage. Case in point: The Pharmaceutical Grade Marihuana Act, formerly known as Senate Bill 660.
"All Senate Bill 660 did was, in the case that marijuana comes off Schedule 1, then it defined a type of product called medical-grade marijuana and what the specifications of that were. This was put forward by Prairie Plant Systems and their lobbyist," Callton explained. "They did want to compete in that market, and their product would be more expensive. They didn't want others calling their marijuana medical grade marijuana if it did not reach these specifications, because it would be more expensive."
This information came from first-hand knowledge. "I had a good talk with them. They thought they could compete for 20% of the market approximately based on what they saw in Canada. If there was an open market system, that 20% of the market would pay extra to have this (pharmaceutical) grade. They just wanted to protect the qualifications of that grade so that other growers who weren't growing at that grade weren't saying they had medical grade and selling it for (a lower price)."
Senate Bill 660, and the Public Act that came from it, was a thick proposal that articulated permissions for a range of activity which would be protected from prosecution by state authorities and federal agents as well. "It was more than just creating the definition of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis. It envisioned an entire procedure where it was cultivated and distributed. It was a very broad act," Rick Thompson reminded the Representative and the listeners.
"Over in Canada the growers I have met with, basically they have very large grows and they distribute through courier," Callton said. "They don't have Provisioning Centers." Callton describing the Canadian model of medical marijuana government regulation that includes cannabis stored in warehouses, zapped with radiation and then delivered via UPS or Fed Ex to patients nationwide. Michigan's Pharmaceutical Grade Marihuana Act requires all marijuana distributed via that program to be irradiated prior to sale and consumption by patients, a provision that many advocates detest.