1,500 marijuana plants in a single garden? Armed guards transporting pot brownies from the kitchen to the warehouse? A 16% tax on medical marijuana?
With the release of the latest draft of Michigan's medical marijuana dispensary bill, HB 4209, sponsor Rep. Michael Callton (R-Nashville) has taken The Provisioning Centers Act in a "drastically different" direction. The flip-flop by Callton has longtime supporters insistent on change and threatening to abandon their support for the four-year old proposal.
Seemingly involved in the major shift in direction: the Michigan Cannabis Development Association (MCDA) and Lansing-area real estate mogul Ron Boji, Commissioner of the Department of Transportation for the State of Michigan serving a term through 2017.
Robin Schneider, Legislative Liaison for the pro-patient lobbying group National Patients Rights Association(NPRA) appeared on The Planet Green Trees Radio Show's June 18 broadcast to discuss Draft 5 of HB 4209. The NPRA is the leading lobbying organization in Michigan advocating for the restoration of legality for patient use of non-smoked forms of cannabis and to establish organized and regulated distribution of medical marijuana in the state.
In studio with host Michael Komorn were co-hosts Jamie Lowell and this author, Rick Thompson, two men who helped draft the original version of this bill in 2011.
Lowell called the new language a "distinct departure" from the version introduced in the House earlier this year. The bill took testimony during two House Judiciary sessions, one May 1 and one on May 7, but none of these radical changes were offered or suggested during those hearings.
ENTER: THE MIDDLEMAN
Jamie Lowell began the segment on PGT by announcing that Rep. Michael Callton (R-Nashville) declined to appear on the show.
"I asked Rep. Callton tonight if he would come on (the radio show) and if he'd be willing to explain what's been going on, what happened, whether or not he supports this bill in this form," Lowell explained.
"His response to me was:
"I can't do the show tonight. There are very dynamic and sensitive negotiations going on right now with police groups and the Governor's office that I can't really talk about on the radio."
One of those sensitive issues must be the newly-created concept of adding a middleman to deny direct sales of cannabis from grower to Provisioning Center.
"In the most recent draft (Draft 5), there is something called a (marijuana) distributorship." The NPRA is "fundamentally very opposed to that concept," Schneider said.
"What that means is a grower would be able to sell marijuana to a distributor and the distributor would transport it, store it, test it, and then sell it to the provisioning centers."
"Provisioning centers would only be allowed to buy marijuana from a distributor. "
Schneider said the program was "similar to the three-tiered alcohol model."
The distributor controls transport of all cannabis going in to and out of a processor's business, a grower's garden and from the distributor to the provisioning centers themselves, Schneider explained, integrating their businesses far more than just "a middleman that is buying it and selling it and jacking up the price."
"It's transport and warehousing," Thompson said. "(Distributors) would purchase all the cannabis from the grow facilities, they would hold it and then distribute it to whom they decided and to whom was willing to pay the price they wanted."
"That's right," Schneider agreed. "It's pretty clear it is somebody interjecting themselves into a position to make a lot of money."
Inserting a mandatory warehouse program carries consequences to the consumer, Schneider offered. "There would be an added middleman in between the grower and the provisioning center. That's certainly a concern for us because it's not a very necessary step in there... but mostly because it's going to add an enormous cost to the final price of the medicine."
"Over the years, we've always tried to keep the focus on the patients, what's best for them, but we do have a lot of business interests coming in and corrupting the process."
Schneider said changes to the draft of the bill were needed in order for the NPRA "to continue supporting the bill."
TAXES, ASSESSMENTS AND 1500 PLANTS
The bill proposes to create giant mega-pot farms in Michigan. "It would be a maximum number of 1500 plants (per license) in this bill," Schneider revealed. Currently, each patient is allowed to cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants on their own or through a caregiver.
The emphasis is heavy on taxes and assessments.
"They want to charge a 16% tax on the marijuana between the distributor and the dispensary," Schneider said, and called the tax "insane and not appropriate to charge for a medically-needed product."
HB 4209 requires a new governmental agency be established to regulate the distributors and Provisioning centers. In order to jump-start the program an initial assessment is necessary to offset costs, Schneider said. Businesses approved to participate in the program would collectively pay the fee. "There would also be an assessment paid through the licensing of the businesses of $12 million in the first year."
The PGT on-air staff members were shocked to hear this number, but Schneider said "the original number was $50 million."
By comparison, "The entire state of Alaska runs their entire recreational program on $1.5 million," she added.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Earlier this year, professional lobbyist Ken Cole from Lansing powerhouse firm GCSI told a group of marijuana business owners during a public meeting he could "hijack" a pair of bills in the Michigan legislature, HB4209 and HB4210. He suggested the bills could be flipped from pro-patient to pro-business, therefore creating a unique advantage for his clients- the MCDA- in the medical marijuana marketplace.
With the publication of Draft 5 of The Provisioning Centers Act, it appears Cole has earned his money.
Since that public meeting, the two bills were given a pair of hearings in the House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township). The hearings began with a presentation by the Michigan State Police (MSP) on the evils of marijuana and cannabis consumers, based on information provided by the Colorado Police Chiefs Association, where the MSP claimed a single marijuana grower in Michigan produces 18,000 joints in a single year.
The hearings featured testimony from parents of sick children, industry representatives and concerned citizens. None of the changes appearing in Draft 5 were offered, discussed or even hinted at. The draft was released by Callton's office just days before the legislature is prepared to break for summer recess, minimizing the fallout for Lansing politicos who have offered a proposal that is, very predictably, not going to be well-received.
Komorn asked about that special summer session of the legislature.
"(The legislature) are having a couple of special sessions this summer, one in July and possibly another one in August," Schneider said. "From what I was told we'll be in a workgroup for the next month and we'll be coming back in July."
"Law enforcement wants to keep these two bills as a package and tackle them at the same time," Schneider said later during the interview. "As far as we're concerned, HB 4209 needs a lot of work."
"We're nowhere near being ready to support it."
Giving the bill a hearing during a special summer session should minimize the media attention and public participation, a strategy that has been used to shelter politically unpopular legislation.
When asked by host Komorn about the impetus for the changes, Schneider said, "some of those were to address law enforcement concerns, some of it came from the governor's office and administration, and of course there's this distributorship thing. I'm assuming it came from business interests that want to be the middleman and distribute all the marijuana in the state."
Lowell identified one name that had come up repeatedly in conversations in Lansing regarding the "dramatic changes" to the bills: "Ron Boji."
When asked, Schneider said, "Yes, I do have knowledge that he is lobbying for a marijuana distributorship at this time."
The Boji Group owns the Boji Tower or Capital View, Lansing's tallest building and the new home of the Michigan Senate. Boji is a Snyder appointee to the position of Transportation Commissioner in 2013 and was named Lansing Entrepreneur of the Year by a trade organization earlier this year.
Schneider singled out the spike in new lobbyists haunting Lansing as a factor in the derailing of the Provisioning Centers Act. "When you have these corporate interests show up, approaching this from a 'how much money can I make' point of view, it makes it very difficult to get something passed that is good for the patients."
She added, "I would definitely say that we're the only ones in there fighting for the little guy. It's very intimidating, very overwhelming. It's difficult."
Later, Schneider said, "I would recommend, now that (Draft 5) has been circulated and that everybody knows that Ron Boji is pushing for a distributorship/middleman, I would say anyone that is concerned about that should go ahead and give Rep. Callton a call. Absolutely. Let him know how you feel about that."
"Rep. Kesto, with that being in his Committee, that would also be welcomed as well."
Rep. Callton's contact information:
Toll Free: 855-373-0842
Rep. Kesto can be reached through his office at:
Phone: (517) 373-1799
FAX: (517) 373-8361Email:KlintKesto@house.mi.gov
Listen to the entire episode at the Planet Green Trees site on blogtalkradio.com at:
Source: The Compassion Chronicles