Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville assigned two pro-marijuana bills to his own Committee on January 8; less than one month later he has announced he's freezing the bills.
"I'm going to sit on them for awhile," Richardville told the Detroit Free Press. "We don't want this ballot initiative to take over."
The ballot initiative he's referring to is the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMA) from 2008. That Voter Directed Initiative was approved by 63% of Michigan voters.
The two bills passed the Michigan House of Representatives by convincing margins and the support of a bi-partisan cast of characters. HB 5104, commonly referred to as The Concentrates Bill, passed with a vote of 100 - 9. HB 4271, the Provisioning Centers Act, was confirmed by a 95 - 14 vote.
In the Free Press article, Richardville takes issue with HB 4271. The bill would allow local communities to empower distribution centers for registered medical marijuana patients, commonly called dispensaries, and would protect them from prosecution under state law. The language that describes operation of the dispensaries makes them dependent upon marijuana supplied by local growers licensed under the MMA to produce cannabis for patients.
"Unless it's a real strict distribution system, we're not going to take a chance," Richardville said. "At this point, I'm not in favor of dispensaries."
Richardville co-sponsored a bill in late 2013 that establishes a system of distributing marijuana using industrial-size marijuana production and sales via big-box pharmacies like Rite Aid and CVS. That bill was rushed through both houses of legislature in a month and a half; Governor Rick Snyder signed the bill into law before the end of the year, but it cannot take effect until marijuana is rescheduled on the federal Controlled Substances List.
This stoppage is a big surprise to many in Michigan's medical marijuana community who believed the bills would be advanced in the early portion of 2014. "It seems that the Senate needs more information and education on these issues," said Jamie Lowell of Ypsilanti's 3rd Coast Compassion Center. "That's how minds were changed in the House of Representatives."
The two bills passed through the Judiciary Committee before being approved on the House floor, but the Senate's Judiciary Committee is chaired by Sen. Rick Jones, a longtime foe of marijuana rights. "I do not favor the wild, wild west of dispensaries coming back," Jones told the Free Press.
Lansing insiders had been cautiously optimistic when Senator Richardville steered the bill to his Government Operations Committee that he was trying to ensure the bills were given a full and fair hearing.
Many were unhappy with the announcement that the bills will be halted, including the bill's sponsor. House Representative Michael Callton, a Republican from the west Michigan community of Nashville, has been working on the legislation since 2011 when it was called The Local Option Bill.
"By not voting for the dispensary bill, you're saying it's OK to have people growing their own in communities," Callton told the Free Press. In actuality, when 63% of Michiganders voted for the MMA in 2008 they approved growing in their own communities. Callton's Provisioning Centers Act is dependent upon caregiver cultivation of marijuana, which for five years has been primarily accomplished in gardens located in residential districts across the state. At the high point, more than 50,000 caregivers and 120,000 patients were licensed to grow cannabis in the state.
Detroit attorney Matthew Abel was also quoted by the Free Press. He said: "Every day that's going by is hurting people who don't have access to what they need... But what's happening is most people are doing what they need to do to get their medicine, and by continuing the prohibition on dispensaries, we're encouraging the continuation of the black market."
Other bills that would reform marijuana laws have been stalled in Michigan, including a bill to decriminalize marijuana statewide and one that would reform laws allowing for the forfeiture of property from citizens who are merely accused of crime, not convicted of them.
10,000 postcards containing a message encouraging Senators to advance and vote for the two bills have been distributed throughout Michigan via various businesses and organizations across the state. Although handwriting a letter to your Senators is the best way to communicate your message, these postcards offer an alternative for those who do not feel comfortable with pen and paper.