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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The History of Vote Green Initiative Project by Ben Horner

The MMM Report was started in February of 2011 as an information source for medical cannabis users in Michigan. Funded by Michigan Organic Solutions, Flint’s first medical marijuana dispensary, the MMM Report grew quickly as the new industry opened up across the state. Although the MMMA legalized medical marijuana, the legality of dispensaries became an issue of conflict. Although some cities embraced the new marijuana businesses and non-profit compassion clubs, many law enforcement and other government persons claimed that transferring marijuana in a dispensary was still illegal. After covering several pro-medical marijuana rallies in Lansing and interviewing several cannabis activists and elected officials, the idea to create the Vote Green Initiative Project (VGIP) was born.

VGIP Takes Shape:
At first, the VGIP was an undefined group of activists that met in dozens of meetings around the State to discuss the issues regarding cannabis laws.  Traveling from city to city, usually meeting in a compassion club or mmj business, activists networked and began a grass root campaign to positively connect with lawmakers and others to promote the cause. We met with many legislators in Lansing and discussed the benefits of marijuana and problems associated to the war on cannabis. VGIP commissioned a poll to promote a statewide petition drive to further the reform of marijuana laws, but the Board of MI Norml rejected the results and started the statewide campaign, which was doomed to fail. After several unfavorable decisions in the appellate courts, great fear for patients and caregivers rose, and it was the VGIP and Michigan Organics that convinced many of the dispensaries to stay open.  Between this and the failed statewide campaign to legalize the state, the mistrust and animosity of activists that disagreed with us created a fundamental rift in the cannabis community. At this time the VGIP was approached by Tim Beck and Chuck Ream from the Safer Michigan Coalition and asked to help in the local initiatives, starting in Flint.

VGIP Leads The Way:
After successfully passing laws to amend the city code of Flint to legalize an ounce or less of marijuana for adult use, the VGIP returned to grassroots lobbying against the series of bills to amend the MMMA of 2008. As the bills went into lame duck, behind the scene negotiations turned the nose of activists around the state. It became obvious that only professional lobbyists could have a seat at the table. At the same time, more cases further cut into the protections for people under the MMMA. The Michigan Association of Compassion Clubs crumbled and the lobbying effort was taken over by NPRA, which the VGIP supported until it became obvious that the special interest money threatens the core of the MMMA. Last year, the VGIP worked on Ferndale and Lansing to legalize under those city’s laws.  We also assisted other cities and promoted the idea that anyone could do this within their own communities. The VGIP has continued this effort this year by supporting over 15 other cities do the same this year.

After supporting several organizations in their efforts to pass dispensary bills 4271 and 5104, we were approached by the bill sponsors and told that the current lobbying effort did not have the resources to pass the bills that would legalize dispensing of medical marijuana. After trying to help NPRA in their efforts to pass these bills by hosting pizza parties in the capitol and other events, our efforts and success threatened those who had been responsible for getting these bills off the ground. At this point we formed the non-profit Cannabis Stakeholders Group (CSG) and hired the most impressive lobbying firm in Lansing, GCSI (Governmental Consultant Services Inc).  From then on, CSG has lead the movement into getting these bills advanced out of Committee and is now currently poised to help pass them. Both the VGIP and the CSG are open groups that all can participate in.  The resistance is strong; people are jealous, egocentric and destructive even within our own movement. We will continue on, and we will win. Vote Green! 

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