LANSING- After a single hearing, a bill has passed a Michigan Senate Committee that would restrict licensed and registered medical marijuana patients from certain uses of the medicinal herb on private property. The bill would amend the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMA) and also includes language that disadvantages those patients in landlord/tenant disputes, empowering landlords to essentially forbid any use or possession of medicinal marijuana.
SB 783 passed the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 18. The bill was introduced to the Senate only one week earlier; Senator Rick Jones (R- Grand Ledge), the Judiciary Committee Chairman, co-sponsored the legislation along with fellow Republican Sen. Jim Marleau (R- Lake Orion).
Most- but not all- of the citizens who spoke at the meeting opposed the bill.
SB 783 would prevent medical marijuana patients from smoking cannabis in any area of their private property that can be viewed by the public. That would include rooms with glass windows, screened porches, in yards or even in fields that are hundreds of feet away from an adjacent property.
The main focus of the debate held between the three-panel Judiciary and the citizens in attendance surrounded the rights of patients against the commercial interest of landlords who wish to deny rental agreements to medical marijuana patients.
Josey Scoggins, the energetic activist from Lansing who has fostered a relationship with the Senators and Supreme Court Justices, described some of those who testified in support of the Jones bill as "very confused as to why they were there. Case law exists; it (the bill) is repetitive."
Scoggins was the first cannabis advocate to testify during the hearing. "They all said their leases had held up in court cases against tenants," she told TCC. "Some said they had read the Attorney General's Opinion letter. They were confused as to the purpose of the bill."
Although those testifying on behalf of the landlord organizations were uncertain as to the need to amend theMMA to address issues specific to marijuana-related activity, others were quite clear about their support of Senator Jones. "I've seen tenants from hell," said Tim Beck, of Detroit, himself a landlord. "Some of these people are so manipulative, so out of control. They are deadbeats. Most of them are deadbeats... Unfortunately there are all kinds of abusive people, including marijuana growers, people who will take advantage (of landlords) if they can..."
Beck is a principal in the pro-marijuana legalization organization Safer Michigan Coalition; nevertheless he is a longtime staunch supporter of Rick Jones and is his primary advocate in the medical marijuana community- often times, Beck is the Senator's only advocate.
Beck further supported the legislation by saying, "The way things are structured now, it's a ticking time bomb. When you have this difference between the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act and this property thing... I'm surprised the lawsuits haven't already hit."
Violations of this proposed law could be severe. According to MLive: "Under the Public Health Code, unsanctioned possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,000. Use is punishable by up to 90 days in prison and/or a fine of $100."
The bill's discriminatory nature- punishing legal smokers for marijuana use while not punishing legal cigarette smokers- was a theme of the debate and was an issue Beck raised as well.
"I find it philosophically difficult... you can ban marijuana and have people smoking cigarettes. People are medical marijuana patients- it's healthy. People who are smoking cigarettes, they are not doing it for their health." Beck concluded with a suggestion to amend the bill. "I'd like to have a thing where all smoking is banned... perfect, no problem at all."
Jones said he would "Consider adding that on the floor" as an amendment during the upcoming Senate debate on the bill. One modification to the bill was considered and adopted in Committee; Sen. Steven Bieda (D- St. Clair Shores), the Committee's lone Democrat, suggested an amendment while commenting on the testimony given by Denise Pollicella of Cannabis Attorneys of Mid-Michigan.
Pollicella agreed during post-testimony questioning that landlords should have the right to ban marijuana use in their properties by renters, but stated the change should not come via an alteration of the MMA but as a change to existing landlord-tenant law. Bieda's amendment inserted the requirement for the landlord's prohibition of marijuana use to be written into the lease agreement; that amendment was adopted unanimously, as was the bill.
Scoggins reports that there were "four or five" organizations in attendance that supported the Jones bill, and she praised the Senator for holding a meeting that honored both sides of the argument. Other advocates that provided testimony include Detroit attorney Thomas Lavigne; Robin Schneider, legislative liaison for theNational Patients Rights Association; and Brandy Zink, who spoke as a representative of the Michigan chapter of Americans for Safe Access.
Citizens typically are given two opportunities to comment publicly on any bill being considered in a Michigan legislative Committee. These Committees are the only opportunity voters have to speak directly to the elected officials who are to approve or reject the legislation; once passed out of Committee public testimony is ended for that bill's life in that legislative house.
Committee Chairpersons have the option to limit public input by passing any bill with a single hearing. SB 783 was considered along with four other bills in the Tuesday Judiciary session- a session that was scheduled for one-half hour of debate. At the end of the Committee meeting Jones read off the list of people that had filled out comment/speaking cards but were not allowed to address the Committee due to the abbreviated session. Steven and Maria Green of Lansing, the parents of Baby Bree, were among those denied the chance to speak.
The bill's path mimics that of SB 660, a bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R- Monroe) in 2013. Richardville introduced the bill to his own Committee, gave it a single hearing one week later and passed it. SB 660, referred to as the pot-for-pharmacies bill, was passed by the Michigan Senate, had a Committee hearing in the House of Representatives and was signed into law by the Governor within two months time total.