Work group eyes flaws, fixes for Michigan's new recreational marijuana law

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A work group tasked with ensuring the smooth operation of Michigan's voter-approved adult use marijuana law is beginning to note some areas that need to be improved and clarified. 

Composed of law enforcement, legal experts and marijuana industry experts, the 15-member group hopes to recommend penalties the law fails to spell out and create consistent definitions between the medical and recreational laws for plants, transportation and storage.

Don Short, 61, of Holland, Michigan, a medical marijuana card-holder and longtime marijuana user. A work group tasked with ensuring the smooth operation of Michigan's voter-approved adult use marijuana law is beginning to note some areas that need to be improved and clarified.

The group will present its findings to the Legislature in the hopes that the House and Senate will find the three-quarters support they need to approve changes to the November ballot initiative.

Among the apparent inconsistencies identified are the lack of penalties for certain violations of the new law.

For example, the act prohibits marijuana consumption in public, but there is no penalty detailed for public consumption, said Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson, president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and a member of the group. The absence leaves prosecutors guessing about whether they should charge a violation under current use or possession laws or a new standard, he said.

But some organizers involved in November’s voter-approved initiative, including Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, contend the law already outlines the penalty for public consumption as a civil infraction, punishable by up to $100 and forfeiture of the marijuana. Irwin worked on the legalization effort and advised the campaign during the drafting of the bill’s language.

While there’s no timeline to submit suggestions to the Legislature, the work group has started to extend its regular meetings from one hour to three hours to speed the process along, said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. The group has met four times since its creation in May.

“The group is reviewing the recreational marijuana proposal adopted in November and comparing it to laws that were on the books when the proposal passed to identify any contradictions or inconsistencies and, if needed, recommend changes to our legislative partners,” Rossman-McKinney said.

Any proposed changes to the law should bring clarity for residents and law enforcement, Hilson said.

“Our hope is that, if we as a group of diverse individuals come up with a consensus recommendation, that the Legislature will really appreciate that and understand the significance and there shouldn’t be a reason we can’t get that 75% vote,” he said.

The group also is examining inconsistent definitions between the medical and recreational laws regarding what is considered a plant, how marijuana is transported or how its stored. While there are rules clarifying the definitions on a commercial level, the guidelines are inconsistent on personal growth or usage, Hilson said.

The group hopes to develop as close to a universal definition as possible to make it easier for police navigating the intricacies of two laws governing essentially the same product.

“I think we all recognize the difficulties and the tremendous amount of litigation that evolved out of a lot of the ballot initiative of 2008,” Hilson said, referring to the medical marijuana initiative. “I think the attorney general wants to avoid all of that.”

Not all marijuana advocates are comfortable with adjusting the wording of the recreational law. 

When voters last year approved the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act, which allowed recreational use, they "spoke clearly on the issue and their decision should be upheld," said Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association and former spokesman for the ballot committee Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. 

The cannabis industry association has a representative on the work group, but is concerned by the absence of members who were involved in the November initiative's campaign or were a drafting committee leader "who could speak to the specifics of the wording or intent," Hovey said. 

"The drafting committee for the MRTMA was very intentional in its language," he said. "If there are any inconsistencies between the medical and adult-use laws, then the medical law should be amended to match the voter-approved law."

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