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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It’s Just a Lame Duck - by Ben Horner

     For over two years the medical marijuana community has been working on legislation to regulate marijuana dispensaries. The main bill is HB 4271, started as the “Local Option Bill” and is now called the “Provisioning Center Bill.” In order to solve the issues related to edibles and concentrates, another bill (HB 5104) has been virtually tied to the dispensary bill; although some believed these bills would be passed into law in the first half of the year, it is obvious that this belief is false.

     The bills were first drafted with the help of Karen O’Keefe from MMP and leaders from the now dispersed Michigan Association of Compassion Centers (MACC). Their belief was that in order to pass these bills, putting the regulations in the hands of the local municipalities was imperative to passing the bills. This theory proved to be incorrect. Currently, the bills have passed the house, passed committee in the Senate and are ready to be amended. When MACC dispersed Kevin McKinney, from McKinney & Associates, contract was bought from MACC by a new group based out of Detroit called the National Patient Rights Association (NPRA) and Robin Schneider was hired as their legislative liaison.

     The Cannabis Stakeholders Group (CSG) was started in the beginning of this year and has been working alongside the NPRA and others to support the bills’ passage. It was CSG that first raised concerns about the bill going to lame duck in November if the NPRA wouldn’t embrace help from the rest of the MMJ community. Having CSG been instrumental in getting the favorable House vote and getting favorable results in committee, there was great hope that these two groups would be able to work together to pass these bills. NPRA was reluctant to work with CSG claiming that CSG was derailing the process, so CSG postponed lobbying till after this legislative session to allow NPRA to work with whom they choose. 

     In late September, Robin Schneider informed activists that progress on the bills were becoming increasingly more difficult, as the negotiations with the Governor’s office were becoming more cumbersome:

     “If we can get the new language agreed upon before they break the second week of October, it’s possible we may still have a vote before break with the concurring vote and Gov. (Governor’s) signature after the election. If that does not happen, it will be November. With the amendments in the S-1 version from the last committee, the bills will not take effect until April 1st 2015 regardless of whether the vote happens before or after the election.”

     Many supporters of the bills are confused why the NPRA has refused to work with other groups like CSG, who has the ability to push these bills through before the November election. After the November election, the current administration can radically change the bills or easily prevent them from passing all together. Representative Michael Callton, the main sponsor of the Provisioning Center bill, has confirmed rumors of a new lobbying group representing Canadian commercial growing and distribution companies are negotiating with the NPRA and the current administration. There is now a real possibility that these bills will crush the current caregiver system and put medical marijuana into the hands a few companies that are controlled by the state, and not a local option.

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