House panel OKs dispensaries, edible marijuana, new tax
Lansing — The House Judiciary Committee touched off a new effort to legalize dispensaries and edible forms of cannabis for medical marijuana patients Tuesday, sending three new bills to the House floor for consideration.
The bills, containing tighter rules than in failed 2014 proposals and an 8-percent excise tax on gross retail income of provisioning centers, is a compromise plan designed to overcome law enforcement opposition.
A voter-approved medical marijuana law that took effect in 2008 doesn’t specifically mention dispensaries or edible marijuana products, whose legality has been clouded by Michigan Supreme Court and appeals court rulings in recent years. Lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that clarifies the law.
Rep. Mike Callton, who negotiated the compromises, called his main legislation “a bill we all can live with.” Callton, R-Nashville, told the committee the 8 percent tax and a mandatory system for tracking all forms of pot — from production to consumption — are key new provisions.
Those proposals drew objections from advocates for less-onerous regulations as well as from Democratic Rep. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, a committee member who tried unsuccessfully to have them removed from the bills.
Irwin argued making medical marijuana purchases too burdensome or costly would increase the chances some would be diverted illegally to non-medical users.
“It will drive people to the black market,” added Frank James, who runs a Gaylord nutrition supplement and natural health store that also offers marijuana flowers.
“People who come into our dispensary need a place to go other than the streets,” James told the committee.
Ken and Alice Szymoniak, of the tiny Presque Isle County town of Millersburg, told the committee that technically illegal cannabis oil has given Alice back a normal life. Ken Syzmoniak, a car dealer, said they tried marijuana after years of desperation.
Alice, who contracted fibromyalgia while recovering from a severe 1998 vehicle crash they were in, had such intense pain that for years they were lucky to be able to even spend an hour having a meal at a restaurant, Ken Szymoniak said.
She’s now pain-free, off prescription opiates and can engage in normal activities, including jet skiing with their grandchildren, the couple said.
“It was our only way of surviving,” Ken Szymoniak said. “It absolutely changed our life. We’re starting to travel again.”
He said he became a state-licensed caregiver for four medical marijuana patients to offset the cost of growing the plants he needs for his wife. “I don’t understand everything that’s in the bills,” he said, “but I support making (cannabis) oils legal.”
The proposed 8 percent excise tax would be in addition to Michigan’s 6 percent sales tax, also collected on cannabis items. Its revenues would offset regulatory and law enforcement costs involved with dispensaries and new medical marijuana products.
Provisions of the bill package also call for a state Medical Marijuana Licensing Board to oversee the new rules. There would be five kinds of state licensees — grower, processor, provisioning center, secure transporter and safety compliance facility.
Chances the bills will pass are uncertain, but more promising than a year ago.
“Too soon to say at this point, as not everyone has had a chance to review them yet,” said Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant. “But I think most people realize there are problems with the recent law that need to be fixed.”
Amber McCann, press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said the GOP majority will decide its fate in caucus discussions. “At this point there is not a push within the caucus for this issue,” she added.
Callton said the bills would need a simple majority vote to pass in each chamber because they aren’t amending the 2008 medical marijuana act.
Meanwhile, two groups are circulating petitions to initiate a new state law that would legalize marijuana for nonmedical, personal use. The measures would go on the November 2016 ballot if enough signatures are gathered and the Legislature doesn’t act on the proposals.