Sen. Jones plans to advance medical marijuana reforms

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Rick Jones said Tuesday he plans to advance a package of bills clarifying the legal status of medical marijuana dispensaries and “edible” forms of pot before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

Whether there will be a full Senate vote yet this year on the House-passed bills, said Jones, remains to be decided by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, and the GOP majority caucus in the Senate.

Jones backs the legislation, which he said is necessary to clear up problems with Michigan’s medical marijuana law.

“What’s going on right now is that caregivers (growers) are loading their overage into their car trunks and taking them to dispensaries, and that’s illegal,” Jones said. “Somebody’s going to end up in prison.”

At a Tuesday committee hearing, several speakers said the legislation contains overly burdensome regulations and higher taxes that would drive current growers, entitled to five patients each, out of business. In contrast, Michigan Responsibility Council President Suzie Mitchell argued for fewer growers.

“The fewer licensed growers we have, the easier it is to police,” said Mitchell, whose group is a coalition of businesses and individuals she said favor “safe, legal and responsible” marijuana use.

One man, identifying himself as a military veteran who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, was removed after arguing with Jones, R-Grand Ledge, over his use of the term “jack-booted thugs” to refer to law enforcement.

He said the main bill is “a disgrace” that would add to the cash flow and powers of governments and police.

“You have to be civil and you cannot call people names,” said Jones, a former sheriff.

In October, the Michigan House approved bills that expand the kinds of medical marijuana patients can ingest and more clearly specify who can dispense the pot. It’s the latest effort to enhance a voter-approved law allowing pot use for specified medical conditions.

Backers say it’s needed in part because courts have reached differing definitions of “useable marijuana” since Michiganians legalized it as a medicine in a 2008 statewide vote. The voter-approved act doesn’t mention dispensaries or “edible” products.

Legislators argued the situation results in uncertainty for legitimate patients and, in some cases, prosecution of patients with legal medical marijuana cards.

Michigan medical marijuana growers and users are “calling for clarity from the state,” said Rep. Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, chief sponsor of the main bill the House approved 95-11. A companion passed 99-7. The bill permitting edible cannabis products passed 96-10.

Michigan Supreme Court and Court of Appeals rulings have held that pot shops and non-smoked forms of cannabis are illegal. Yet many communities continue to allow pot outlets. At hearings, patients have testified they are using edible products such as cannabis oil.

One bill specifically clarifies the legal status of cannabis outlets. Another allows products such as cannabis oil some Michiganians are using to treat chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia pain and seizures.

Republican Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons of Alto, sponsor of that bill, says the legislation would allow the state finally to comply logically with the act residents approved seven years ago.

The legislation includes an option to let local communities decide whether to allow dispensaries. Without an affirmative vote by a local governing body, they’d remain illegal in a municipality.

The main bill also calls for a 3-percent excise tax, in addition to the 6-percent sales tax, on marijuana and cannabis products. Revenue from the excise tax would be split between state and local governments to offset the costs of enforcing medical marijuana regulations.

It creates five types of state licensees: growers, processers, safety compliance facilities, secure transporters and provisioning centers-dispensaries.