Snyder to decide pot law overhaul after House approval

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder will now have the final say on whether Michigan will have new regulations for the state’s medical marijuana industry after the state House approved Wednesday a package of legislative reforms.

The bills would let local governments control where provisioning centers open, impose a new tax on the centers, track the sale and distribution of medical marijuana in a new database, allow patients to use “edibles” and other non-smokable marijuana derivatives, and create other changes.

The House overwhelmingly approved the three-bill package, inserting language from two of the Senate’s five-bill package into one of the House bills before voting Wednesday.

The Senate approved the package last week, nearly a year after the House approved it for the first time. The action followed almost eight years of uncertainty from patients, lawyers and marijuana dispensaries about what the state’s ambiguous 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law actually allows.

“The governor will still need to review the final versions before making a decision on signing,” spokesman Ari Adler said in an email, “but he appreciates the hard work the Legislature did to get to this point.”

Supporters say the bills will make communities and patients safer through much-needed government oversight and regulation for an industry some critics have decried as virtually lawless.

Some Republican lawmakers have lamented that pot shops blossom near schools, churches and other places where they say residents, city officials or lawmakers may find them in poor taste. Critics also say there’s no control over the strength of marijuana derivatives and that legal medical pot slips all-too-easily, and illegally, onto the street.

Under the legislation, marijuana dispensaries, growers, processors and transporters would have to receive an annually renewed state license to operate. The legislation also would require written approval from the city, township or village before dispensaries can set up shop. The municipality that approves the application would sign off on the location of the provisioning center.

The overhaul would also let municipalities limit the number of dispensaries and enact zoning ordinances to control where such businesses would open, addressing a concern about the shops sprouting in unwanted areas.

The state would impose a new 3 percent tax on “the gross retail income” of every provisioning center, and the definition of “medical use” and “usable marihuana” in state statute would be revised to allow patients to consume extracts that are not smoked, such as brownies, cookies, oils, salves and other derivatives. It also establishes maximum THC levels – the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana – out of concern that some of the edibles could be too strong.

Money from the new tax would go toward funding police training programs and a fund the state created in 2014 to help pay for firefighters’ medical bills related to cancer they contracted in the line of duty.

A state-run tracking system would collect information on sales, inventory and theft, from “seed to sale” under the legislation, if Snyder signs the bills.

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard opposes the legislation because it could let convicted felons run dispensaries after they’ve been out of prison for 10 years.

Bouchard, a former Republican state senator, told The Detroit News last week, “Obviously, that’s fraught with peril.”

The legislation disqualifies anyone with a misdemeanor conviction involving controlled substances, theft, dishonesty or fraud from obtaining a medical marijuana dispensary license until five years after the conviction. It stops felons from running pot shops for 10 years after their release from prison.

Bouchard says legislators should add provisions barring drug felons from getting dispensary licenses – even past the 10 years already provided for — or Snyder should veto the package.

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, voted against the package and said he agrees with Bouchard that stricter prohibitions are needed for felons who might try working in the medical marijuana industry.

“I think that’s the biggest problem with the package,” Greimel said.

He added that operating dispensaries and transporting marijuana to them are both illegal under the 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law.

Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, called the bill he sponsored — which creates new regulations for dispensaries — his “magnum opus.” He said he’s confident Snyder will sign the legislation.

A chiropractor, Callton said he started working on the legislation about five years ago in a bid to help cancer patients and children with epilepsy.

“One day I had a patient come in and he said, ‘Doc, I’m dying of cancer.’ And he looked terrible,” the lawmaker said. “And the marijuana helped him with his appetite. ... The munchies means it helps you eat, and that’s when I started getting on board.”

mgerstein@detroitnews.com