Marijuana activists mostly cheered Thursday’s long-awaited approval by the state Senate of bills legalizing key aspects of medical marijuana in Michigan.
But law-enforcement officials said the bills left key concerns unresolved, and Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said he might lead an effort to seek a veto in coming weeks by Gov. Rick Snyder.
The two bills, which gained House approval earlier this year, put into law the legal existence of shops that sell the medicinal herb, called dispensaries; and they made legal the sale and use of so-called “medibles,” the edible and other non-smoked forms of the drug preferred by many who seek health benefits.
“It’s been a long, arduous path” to get the bills passed after years of debate, said Adam Macdonald, 41, of Grosse Pointe Farms, owner of a dispensary on Detroit’s east side.
“Michigan needed to catch up” with other states that allow dispensaries, said Macdonald, who is chairman of the National Patients Rights Association, a group of more than 100 dispensary owners, activists and medical-marijuana users, mainly in Michigan. This year, Michigan became one of only two states that allowed medical marijuana yet did not have a state law to allow dispensaries, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.
Hundreds of dispensaries have been operating in Michigan, mainly in counties such as Wayne, Washtenaw and Genesee, where authorities have tolerated them despite a controversial opinion by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette that some local authorities interpreted as meaning all dispensaries were illegal. Others interpreted as meaning dispensaries were legal if they operated within tight constraints with limited customers.
The new law, if signed by Snyder, “will give us a lot more freedom to operate and lot more potential profits — right now, if you toe the line, you really can’t make much,” Macdonald said Thursday, standing behind the counter of his dispensary, called Nature’s Alternative, and housed in a former medical clinic. The new law would not interfere with the dispensary ordinance passed this year by the Detroit City Council that regulated where the dispensaries can be located, he said.
But Bouchard said he was distressed with key aspects of the bills.
“I’m all for a system that’s regulated, that creates consistent, safe, predictable dosages for patients — right now, nobody knows what they’re getting” from dispensaries, Bouchard said Thursday.
Yet, the bills allow people with felonies to obtain dispensary licenses 10 years after their conviction or incarceration, and “why would we allow that in a highly regulated business that has real dangers,” he said. Bouchard said he had lunch Tuesday with Detroit Police Chief James Craig, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham.
All agreed, Bouchard said, that unless their concerns were addressed, the bills should not pass. On Thursday, he said he was seeking reaction from the others and that, “if we decide this is not acceptable, we may urge a veto” by the governor, he said.
Robin Schneider, a Lansing lobbyist for dispensary owners across the state, said, "Give me a break. People make a lot of changes in 10 years."
To pass the bill allowing dispensaries, referred to as the “Provisioning Centers Act,” the state Senate mustered the three-fourths super-majority vote needed to amend the state Constitution, which contains Michigan’s medical marijuana act. A simple majority was all they needed to pass the bill allowing “medibles,” referred to as the “Medical Marijuana Extracts Bill.”
If signed into law, the dispensary bill would give communities local control over whether and where dispensaries could locate, much as the discretion that cities and townships have over sites for bars. It would also create what is called a “tiered” system of licensing for growers, dispensaries, patients, caregivers and transporters of medical marijuana, similar to the layers or “tiers” that separate production, distribution and sale of alcohol and tobacco. There would be a 3% excise tax on the raw marijuana paid by the dispensaries. The state's usual 6% sales tax would be paid by customers buying medical marijuana.
The law is badly needed to end the unregulated spread of dispensaries in cities and counties that have tolerated them, said leaders of the bills’ passage.
“What we have now is totally out of control, the wild, wild West. We have 70 or 80 dispensaries in Lansing alone,” said state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “It’s up to us to bring clarity to this.”
But Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, said it was a sad day for the citizens of the state.
“The endgame of this legislation with all of its societal ills is the full legalization of marijuana in our state,” he said. “This isn’t the legacy that I want to leave for the citizens of Michigan.”
The bills had been stuck in a Senate committee for 11 months, unable to get the majority needed to move to the full Senate. But with a head count on the floor of the Senate Thursday, the bills were discharged from the committee and passed by the full Senate with the bare amount of votes necessary.
The bills — HB 4209-4210, 4827, SB 141 and SB 1014 — build upon the constitutional amendment passed by voters to legalize medical marijuana in 2008.
“The framework created by this landmark legislation will allow the medical marijuana industry in Michigan to spark small business development, promote job growth and generate much needed revenue for both the state and local communities,” said Willie Rochon, Michigan Cannabis Development Association vice president and spokesperson. “We commend the Michigan Senate, the entire Legislature, and particularly the sponsors of this legislation for their dedication on behalf of Michigan’s patient community and the industry required to support it.”
The House of Representatives is expected to take up, and possibly give final passage, to the medical marijuana bills next week, said Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant. Once passed and, if the bills are signed by Snyder, they would go into effect 90 days after the bills are signed.
What the medical marijuana bills do:
HB 4209: The bill creates a license and regulates medical marijuana growers, processors, provisioning centers and dispensaries, transporters and testing facilities. The bills allows communities to enact ordinances to authorize a dispensary in their town and charge an annual licensing fee of up to $5,000. People with medical marijuana cards and caregivers would be immune from prosecution if they are in compliance with the act. A tax rate of 3% would be imposed on the gross retail income of each provisioning center, which some experts say would bring in an estimated $40 million to $50 million in revenues to the state. The bill would create three classes of licenses for medical marijuana growers: Class A, up to 500 plants; Class B between 500 and 1,000 plants and Class 3, between 1,000 and 1,500 plants. The state Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Department has estimated that it will cost the state $21 million annually to implement and enforce the new medical marijuana laws.
HB 4210: Allows for the use of non-smokable forms or marijuana — often called “medibles” — which include oils and food products.
HB 4827: Creates a monitoring system to track the marijuana from seed to sale to determine how the marijuana is grown, processed and transferred to a dispensary.
SB 141: Creates penalties of up to two years in prison for selling marijuana in violation of licensing restrictions.
SB 1014: Adds medical marijuana to the authority of Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.
(2016 © Detroit Free Press)