By Ben Horner
Things in the medical marijuana community are in a constant state of flux, as it seems the rules are changing constantly. Many growers in Michigan are suspicious of currant legislation to regulate dispensaries and how it could restrict grower’s rights. There is widespread concern about how cannabis should be cultivated and if caregivers will have a place in the future.
Several groups are mounting efforts to explore future legalization efforts here in Michigan, but very few understand how to successfully accomplish this task.
I asked Tim Beck to way in on some of these tough questions. Here is what he had to say.
Question 1: What is the point of the local initiatives in Ferndale, Lansing and Jackson to decriminalize procession of marijuana for adults over the 21? Doesn't Sate law trump these local initiatives?
Beck: The purpose of these initiatives is to further legitimize cannabis for medical as well as personal use and ultimately lead to the legalization and regulation of cannabis similar to the way alcohol and tobacco are treated.
When these initiatives pass by overwhelming majorities this November, like similar ones did in Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids and Ypsilanti in 2012, Kalamazoo in 2011, and Ann Arbor in 1973, most every major City in Michigan will have spoken loud and clear as to what they want public policy to be. While it is true state police, county sheriff deputies and even local police can arrest and charges someone under state law, generally they (local police) do not, and state police and county sheriffs have other priorities then busting small time cannabis users.
With the exception of Flint, officials in every city, which passed these ballot initiatives, have made it clear in one way or another; cannabis users are going to get a break. Be assured, politicians in Lansing pay very close attention to these initiatives, and ultimately these victories will result in changing state law for the better.
Question 2: What are your thoughts about the Provisioning Center Bill HB 4271 and the Decriminalization Bill 4623? Do they have a real chance of passing and how will they affect further marijuana drug law reform?
Beck: HB 4271 has an excellent chance of passage by the end of 2014. It is the top priority among sophisticated, affluent members of the community who have clout in Lansing. It is absolutely essential this bill pass for the sake of our most vulnerable medical patients, who need safe, convenient access to their medicine. Members of the community who prefer to grow their own or function as a caregiver are fully protected under this bill. The right to grow and be a caregiver is absolutely essential until at least federal law changes. When this bill becomes law, Michigan will be one of the best medical cannabis states in the entire USA.
HB 4623 is a good bill, but its chances of passage are more problematic. It is likely to pass in the House, especially after House Speaker Jase Bolger praised the concept of decriminalization last week in the Detroit News.
The Senate is a horse of a different color and Senator Rick Jones, the powerful Chairman of Senate Judiciary has said in so many words he does not like decriminalization. Unless he changes his mind down the road, chances of the bill making it through the Senate are dim.
That said, we must never give up hope and we must keep fighting, especially in passing local decrim ballot initiatives. Ultimately I have found Rick Jones to be an honest, pragmatic man. If he is given a good reason to reevaluate his position based upon new information and political realities, he is not a hopeless case, as some in the community believe.
In the end game, if both these bills pass, I may have to find a new political cause, because most of what I have been working on for many years will have become reality in Michigan. Honest, well-regulated provisioning centers will ultimately become the equivalent of liquor stores in a scenario where cannabis is legal under a tax and regulate legal model.
Question 3: During recent house judicial committee meeting, public input was received about "marijuana in general" rather then discussing the actual bills (4271 and 4623), what does that tell us about how lawmakers are approaching this subject?
Beck: In spite of denials, obscure statements and coded talk by some players, the House Judiciary Committee hearing really was about these two bills, primarily HB 4271; otherwise this event would never have taken place from jump street. The Committee members used this hearing to glean information and see which way the wind was blowing before they make their next move. They now have their ducks in a row and the next step in the process will be a formal hearing, at least on 4271.
Question 4: The Feds have been active on the west coast, targeting high volume marijuana production and distribution groups related to medical marijuana. Is this a sign of future attacks from the Feds in Michigan or is this limited to groups that are obviously outside of the scope or spirit of the medical marijuana laws?
Beck: The Federal action on the west coast was a political move by the Obama administration to inoculate itself from Republican attacks in the 2012 election. Obama could do anything he wanted in California and he would still win California's electoral votes. The feds came down hard in Montana too and that was also risk free, since Montana's three electoral votes would never go to Obama anyway.
The one serious attack by the DEA in Michigan on the "Lansing Seven” was an anomaly, to put the fear of federal authority into cannabis businesspersons in general. It is not part of a trend.
The thing we all need to pay close attention to, be what if anything the administration will do in Colorado and Washington State, which have gone the route of full legalization. That will really tell us which way the wind is blowing.
Question 5: Do you see a place for local growers and farmers markets for marijuana or do you see marijuana ending up as a highly control closed system like alcohol and tobacco?
Beck: In the event of legalization, it will be a hodge-podge of rules, which vary from state to state and maybe even county by county. In some counties in Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas and the American Bible belt in general, it is still illegal to purchase alcoholic beverages in these places.
Question 6: What should we read from recent republican Michigan speaker of the House calling for marijuana law reform? Are the Democrat the biggest roadblock and how does local a state initiatives effect up coming elections for politicians from both parties?
Beck: As I mentioned earlier, Speaker Bolger's recent pronouncement was extraordinary, and totally unexpected. It bodes very well for the community down the road. Mr. Bolger is a very powerful and cautious man, so this statement must be taken seriously.
The Democrats at this point are preoccupied with survival. If it is to their advantage to get on board with cannabis reform they will do so. If it is not, they will attempt to block it just to screw the Republicans. In any event, they are not in power. The Republicans, by a simple majority, easily have the votes to do anything they want. The only power Democrats have over cannabis policy in Michigan is if there is a further attempt to change the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, which requires a 3/4 super majority. The Democrats have real power only in that situation.
The local initiatives are absolutely vital. The most accurate political poll in existence is an election, when real votes are counted. It doesn't get any better then that.