Editorial: Protect access to medical marijuana
The Senate failed to pass legislation again this year that would legalize non-smokable forms of marijuana under the state’s medical pot program. That means nearly 180,000 medical marijuana patients in Michigan remain in limbo, as do their caregivers and suppliers.
It’s unfair to patients working within the law, adopted by a 2008 ballot initiative, to continue withholding safe access to their legal medicine. The Legislature must legalize edible, topical and other forms of the drug, and approve a regulatory structure in which the industry can operate.
A House bill that passed in the fall provides a good model of what the Senate should take up in 2016. The House also passed reasonable legislation last year, which stalled out in the Senate due to last-minute lobbying from law enforcement agencies.
The House bills legalize non-smoking forms of marijuana, including edibles such as cookies and candies, and derived topicals such as oils, often used to treat epilepsy.
Those bills would let communities decide if they want medical marijuana-related businesses, such as dispensaries, within their borders.
The bills also impose a 3 percent excise tax on marijuana businesses and 6 percent sales tax on medical marijuana purchases. While other medicines aren’t specially taxed — in fact, many of them are subsidized by the state through various programs — medical marijuana still faces a stigma most pharmaceutical medicines don’t, and the tax is a compromise that can be lived with.
The House bills also create categories of regulated medical marijuana businesses, and direct the Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Department to establish licensing fees for each category.
Sen. Rick Jones introduced legislation in the Senate, but likely lacking votes to pass it, pulled them from consideration right before the end of session.
His form of the bill, however, had some problems.
Specially, the Jones bill would establish a three-tiered system regulating the production and sale of medical pot for growers, distributors and retailers.
Much like the failed tiered system for alcohol sales in the state, this system would only benefit distributors, the middlemen who drive up costs. It would ultimately punish growers and retailers, while burdening patients.
Given any legislation on the medical program might eventually apply to full legalization, it’s critical the legislation start off correctly.
Lawmakers who fear passing regulations might encourage the use of medical marijuana should be more worried that failing to protect the patients’ safe access to medicine will increase black market sales.
It will also raise the incentives for bring full legalization to the ballot. Already two groups are collecting signatures for a hopeful 2016 ballot proposal.
It’s unfair to declare medical marijuana legal, but then not provide the regulatory framework to assure that patients and their caregivers don’t become accidental criminals.