For close to five years now the medical marijuana community has waited for the Michigan legislature to produce a set of rules governing legitimate distribution centers for medicinal cannabis. In 2013 the Court of Appeals created a need for more legislation, this time to restore the protected status of patients using or creating concentrated forms of cannabis-based medicines.
A group of highly controversial bills that propose to fix these issues are pending in the Michigan legislature. Representative Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) was a guest on the Planet Green Trees Radio Show and provided an update on the various bills pending in the legislature which focus on marijuana law reform, both positive and negative.
"There was a lot of chatter about the bills were going to be reported out of the Senate and maybe sent to the Governor before the summer break," he told the PGT listeners.
"But, that didn't happen."
The two primary bills of concern are House Bills 4209, which would control medical marijuana distribution statewide, and HB 4210, which proposes to restore the status of concentrated medical marijuana to one that is protected by the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act of 2008.
Both bills were snatched from the brink of passage during the last day of the legislature's 2013-2014 session by the Michigan Sheriffs Association, who organized members to make direct contact with their district's lawmakers and strenuously object on the night before the bills were scheduled to be voted on. Re-introduced in 2015, the bills went through a complete transformation at the hands of the new session's power players including House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Klint Kesto.
The bills that were once functional and marginally acceptable to the medical marijuana community were "hijacked," as lobbyist Ken Cole described it, by special interest groups and in-state latecomer profiteers. Kesto added his own bill to the mix- a bill requiring every marijuana plant grown commercially to be registered like a human being with a unique ID number and a specific lifetime monitoring program called a seed-to-sale system.
The marijuana industry rebelled; stalwart lobbying group National Patient Rights Association worked with Judiciary Committee member Rep. Irwin to secure some measure of reasonableness to the proposal before it was passed by the House on October 7, 2015 with a vote of 95-11 for HB 4209 and 96-10 for HB 4210.
The bill package went to the Senate. It was assigned to the Judiciary Committee, chaired by former Sheriff and powerful Republican Sen. Rick Jones. There both HB 4209 and HB 4210 underwent a new round of manipulation through the addition of language favoring special interest groups, some of which had been removed as part of the deal to move the bills through the House.
Longtime conservative lawmakers refused to support the Jones version of the bill for various reasons; the medical marijuana community refused to support the bill for obvious reasons, including the addition of a secure transport system which would require THC-infused brownies to be transported from bakery to dispensary in an armored car.
Sen. Jones was unable to force his own Committee members to support his version of the bills with a vote, and therefore had to remove the bill from Committee via the Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Arlan Meekhof. Now, having successfully bypassed the normal route of legislation, Jones is trying to rally the Senators to vote in favor of the bills- and he's running into problems yet again.
Rep. Irwin was asked to explain what happened and where we are now. The PGT host, Farmington attorney Michael Komorn, is joined on the audio by myself, attorney Shyler Engel from Shelby Township, Royal Oak attorney David Rudoi and Michigan Parents for Compassion founder Jim Powers.
Also present during the recording are Jamie Lowell of Third Coast Dispensary in Ypsilanti; several moderators from the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association website; attorney Jeff Frazier and photographer Jeanette Warner; Full Melt Radio Show host Steve Greene; and Komorn Law's Dewey Thomas.
Rep. Irwin related the history in brief, noting that the bills were successfully pulled from committee but did not gain enough support for a Senate floor vote.
"There was a lot of wrangling back and forth about the details," Rep. Irwin related. "The lobby for the law enforcement leadership is very much present for these negotiations, and they were front and center arguing for a variety of changes to the bills to do what they think is going to increase public safety, but what many of us probably suspect will decrease public safety. They want to do things to further cut caregivers out of the system..."
"Increase arrests, is what they are aimed at," Rudoi chimed in.
"Some of the changes they are talking about really will make criminalization really more a part of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act," Irwin agreed, "which is something many of us have been fighting against."
Show host Komorn described the current legislation as creating a "police-driven dispensary bill that will tax, and raise a huge price on, patients, and create a huge black market."
"If you look at the changes that have been made to the bills from their inception there has been a constant change, and every one of those changes have been against the interest of patients and caregivers and more to please the interest and demand of law enforcement," Rep. Irwin stated. "As I say around the halls of the Capitol, it really just costs patients money and provides them zero benefit- and it also drives the black market and the crime associated with it.
"So, why would we do these things?"
The discussion moved to the specifics of the proposed changes. Rep. Irwin listed some of ideas being floated around by special interest groups.
"They are trying to make limits on the production of, specifically butane hash oil."
"Is it a safety issue?" Komorn asked.
It is, said Rep. Irwin. "Some of the changes they are arguing for is really going to push people into more dangerous locations to make that...
"They are talking about limits to potency," he continued. "For instance, they are talking about limits on the type of zoning classifications that this could be done in, or that processing facilities can be licensed in, or that cultivation facilities can be licensed in. All of these types of things, they are throwing a lot of ideas at the bills. They are talking about changing where the revenue raised from the taxes and fees would go.
"They are talking about all these little changes to the bills that were part of what gummed up the bills' progress toward a vote in the Senate. There were just so many different proposals being thrown at it by mostly law enforcement, from as far as I can tell.
"This confused the issue. It's an issue that already has only tenuous support from many of the Senators who support it... some are changing their support or telling different people different things."
Legislators and party caucuses keep a count of the lawmakers who are likely to vote for an issue, and of those likely to vote against. With marijuana issues, that vote acts as a barometer of support and as a lever for conservative leaders to force additional compromises from bill supporters.
"I keep hearing yes there are enough votes, that they have made the final capitulation necessary to get the number of votes (needed to pass the bills) and then right when it gets to the eleventh hour it's, 'Oh no, I guess there aren't enough votes and there aren't enough votes because there's a shitstorm around this or that or another thing.' Usually it's another set of these proposed changes or it's some generalized pushback from some certain members who are opposed, and will always be opposed, and have lobbied their colleagues."
Considering the level of concession and manipulation of the bills' language, many feel they are unsalvageable. "So, if it doesn't pass that could be the best case scenario," Komorn summarized.
"Well, it depends on what you like," said Rep. Irwin. "The idea that HB4210 would pass and would take the cloud away from patients who need relief through oils and concentrates and who currently suffer through the illegality of their medicine, or from the lack of protections from the MMMA when they are using those substances... For those people I want 4210 to pass...
"With respect to the other bills, I think they have been pretty loaded up with concessions to law enforcement that have all served to make the system less functional and less likely to succeed."
Rep. Irwin maintains hope that there can be some positives yet to come in the negotiations over the content of the bills. "I am hopeful that we might get some decent bills out of it," he offered. "Clarifying these areas of law would be good. Making it clear that concentrates and edibles made with concentrates are legal under the Medical Marihuana Act would be, I think, clearly be a big win."
Other possible positives include "getting some sensible, reasonable rules for operations of provisioning centers."
There are more bills involved in this package than just 4210 and 4209. Rep. Klint Kesto's seed-to-sale tracking system involves each plant being tagged for life, with gardeners expected to enter the plant's status and progress on a bi-weekly basis- possibly, even more frequently than that.
"The kind of stuff they have with this seed-to-sale tracking system, this overwrought and unnecessarily expensive system of secure transport, all of that, it's a bit much for me," Irwin noted. "I think it's going to add a tremendous amount of costs for patients without any kind of benefit."
Komorn recalled the days of marijuana community support for the initial version of the dispensary bill, which was drafted by MPP's Karen O'Keefe with the assistance of the now-defunct Michigan Association of Compassion Centers (MACC) and state-based activists. "If there was going to be a retail center, that retail center was to be supplied by the existing caregivers," he reminded the PGT listeners. "Period."
Members of the show Jamie Lowell and this author were a part of the MACC organization when this legislation was being created. "Look at where they are at right now," Komorn complained. "They are (potentially) selling licenses to not that group of people."
Part of having special interest present during bill negotiations is the ever-present misinformation spread to support those special interests. Irwin hears the same old tired lines when speaking to law enforcers at the Capitol. "You also get thrown in there that, hey, this is not the same marijuana you had in the sixties and seventies," he said, referring to the complaints aired to him by anti-marijuana lobbying entities, "it's a whole new thing that will grab hold of the mind of a young person and lead them down a wayward path."
Irwin added that he is often told how medibles and concentrates are a whole new type of substance that is far more dangerous than cannabis- and the inevitable "people driving while stoned" conversations.
While Irwin stopped short of making a prediction, he did agree with Komorn's suggestion that this Senate vote could fall to a Lame Duck session as the vote for the two bills did in 2014. Lame Duck is the period after the November 8 General Election but before the final day of this Legislature's two-year session, in mid-December. Some legislators are term-limited out and others have lost their positions due to election results, so they often vote without the moral compass of having to seek the approval of their constituents ever again.
This time period produces some heinous legislation and is rife with political influence peddling. It was on the last day of Lame Duck in 2014 when the Michigan Sheriffs Association waged their one-day battle against the dispensary and medibles bills.
The conflict they created is still being fought today in the halls of legislature and on the keyboards of media hawks.
Source: The Compassion Chronicles