Med pot bills won’t get vote this session, senator says

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Bills to legalize dispensaries and edible forms of cannabis for Michigan medical marijuana patients will wait until next year, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday.

“I hope by early next year, we’ll be able to push this through,” Sen. Rick Jones said during a gathering of proponents urging lawmakers to adopt the additions to the law Michigan voters approved in 2008.

The Grand Ledge Republican said he believes there’s support for final approval of the House-passed legislation, but it faces opposition in his committee. He has asked that Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, call for a full Senate vote to discharge it from the panel.

Lawmakers, pressing to start their year-end recess Friday, are loaded up with issues such as rewriting Michigan’s energy regulations and deciding whether to create new tax breaks that would help draw a huge data server center to the Grand Rapids area.

Jones, a former sheriff, teamed up Tuesday with Highland Park Sen. Bert Johnson, a Democrat, and advocates who say the proposed changes are becoming more urgent. He said he opposes legalization of recreational marijuana use but favors regulated use of it for medical conditions.

Jones said Michigan has “a form of organized crime” right now with technically illegal dispensaries buying and selling pot and pot products from licensed growers who are supposed to be selling only to their patients.

Johnson said the proposed legislation “will protect patients and the public” from what he described as a “wild, wild west” scenario regarding pot sales and use in Metro Detroit.

In October, the Michigan House approved bills that expand the kinds of medical marijuana patients can ingest and more clearly specify who can dispense it.

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.

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

At a Dec. 8 Judiciary Committee hearing, several speakers said the legislation contains overly burdensome regulations and higher taxes that would drive growers out of business.

In contrast, Michigan Responsibility Council President Suzie Mitchell argued fewer growers would make the system easier to police. The organization describes itself as a trade association promoting responsible cannabis policy.

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