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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

May 2015 Michigan News - by Rachel Bunting

 44th Annual Hash Bash
Ann Arbor- Hash Bash was back in full swing this year with nearly 8,000 people attending. Started by John Sinclair in 1972, Hash Bash has been a way for marijuana-loving Michigander’s to peacefully protest the prohibition of the drug and to focus on reforming the marijuana laws in Michigan. Every year the crowd seems to grow larger and with speakers such as comedian and marijuana activist, Tommy Chong; Lansing Mayor, Virg Bernero; hash bash originator, John Sinclair; State Representative Jeff Irwin, and many others it is easy to see why the event was a huge success.

     Much of the focus this year was promoting a 2016 state ballot measure that would legalize cannabis use and hemp in Michigan. The measure would also remove past criminal convictions for the possession of marijuana. Jeff Irwin, who is responsible for drafting the 2016 measure, and Mayor Bernero spoke about the criminalization of marijuana as damaging to the state of Michigan. Irwin’s speech was about how ‘cannabis is a gateway drug. A gateway drug to a “bad time with law enforcement. It’s a gateway to a criminal record; it’s a gateway to a misdemeanor or a felony. It’s a gateway to hundreds of millions of dollars wasted of taxpayer money arresting, trying, prosecuting, and incarcerating marijuana users.”’ While Bernero elegantly stated, “…I’ve come to realize that ‘free the weed’ means ‘free the people’.
     Tommy Chong called for the elimination of the DEA claiming, “It started as a protest, but it’s turning into a celebration because we are winning. What we’re having here today is the celebration of the greatest plant known to man. All pot use is medicinal.” Many patients and advocates also stood up to tell their stories of how marijuana has helped them improve their lives.
Once the speakers concluded many attendees headed over to the Monroe street fair, which had live music, street vendors, and a meet and greet with the Up in Smoke actor. While marijuana is still illegal in Michigan, as well as Ann Arbor, police and university public safety turn a blind eye on the first Saturday of April and allow the festivities to continue but do stand-by in case of a medical emergency. 

Legislation for Legalization
Lansing- This month, State Representative Jeff Irwin confirmed plans to introduce legalization legislation in Lansing. He contends legalization has the potential to save Michigan tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Irwin told mLive “The idea that marijuana prohibition is effective at doing anything is wrong. It’s a ‘put your head in the sand’ approach, and it doesn’t work.” Marijuana is already easily accessible in many areas, so Irwin suggests that making recreational use legal would allow police to focus more time on protecting kids from hard drugs, such as crystal meth and heroin. The legislation would seek to establish a system for taxable sales, licensing of growers and retailers, and local control provisions, which would allow communities to decide if and how they will allow retail stores.
     The legislation Irwin will be introducing is similar to the one in Colorado but will call for a lower sales tax than those imposed in Colorado. Colorado collected $8.8 million in tax revenue in January due to the 10 percent excise tax on the plant, a 10 percent state tax on retail sales, and a 2.9 percent tax with a local tax option. Though Colorado has had an amazing intake, Irwin believes having a lower tax rate will help break up the already well-established black markets. He feels that there will be more participation with a lower sales tax that people feel is worth paying in order to complete a legal transaction. Even with the lower tax, Irwin estimates that the system could generate anywhere between $50 and $200 million a year, some of which could be used toward schools, roads, or substance abuse treatment programs. While many politicians are behind legalizing marijuana so long as it is heavily regulated and controlled, Irwin would prefer a more “free market” approach. He suggests that over-regulation could encourage continued illegal activity, “we know that when we try to grasp this more tightly, it falls through our fingers.”

No Proof, No Pee
Detroit- In September 2013 Ralph Greer Jr. was working for the Detroit Department of Water and Sewage (DWSD) when a television reported called the Director of Public Relations of the office to alert them that an “anonymous source allegedly told him that some undescribed individual driving a DWSD vehicle was smoking marijuana.” The anonymous individual claimed to have photographic evidence but refused to provide it.
      An investigation by the DWSD discovered that Greer had been driving the vehicle on the day in question and Greer was order to submit a drug test. There was no corroboration of the allegation so Greer, following the advice of his union rep, refused to undergo the test and was ultimately discharged. After grieving the dismissal, Greer was reinstated without lost wages and benefits. Greer filed suit and this month the judge found in his favor. The court concluded that the search (drug test) was a constitutional violation. ‘The DSWD was obligated to establish the reliability of the anonymous tip before ordering a drug test based on it. Since they did not do so the court concluded the tip did not provide the individualized reasonable suspicion sufficient to require Greer to submit to a urine test.’

Keeping the Pressure on Higher Education
Mount Pleasant- A student organization at Central Michigan University shows that it isn’t just the state and federal governments that need to be reminded what the people want. The Student Advocates for Medical and Responsible Cannabis (SAMRC) have been doing their part to protect the rights of medical patients at universities. They educate students on cannabis, the effects, the industry, and the policies. The SAMRC was a big part of placing the City of Mount Pleasant Marijuana Decriminalization Proposal on the November 2014 ballot. They also have pushed two bills to the Student Government Association House and Senate.
     The first bill called to change the penalties of being caught with marijuana in a residence hall to match those of being caught with alcohol in the residence hall. The second bill they are trying to push at school is medical amnesty for students who are medical marijuana patients living on campus. The SAMRC’s current goals are to pass legislation through the SGA every year, even if the Student conduct doesn’t sign off on the bills. They just want to make sure the SGA knows what the student body wants. They understand that the main reason their bills will probably not pass is because the university cannot condone something that violates federal law because they receive federal funding, but the SAMRC just wants to keep the pressure on, and, like many other groups, the long term goal is legalizing marijuana in Michigan.

Republicans for Pot
Pontiac- Matt Marsden, a spokesman for a Pontiac-based group of Republicans called the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, sees the way Michigan is struggling financially and believes, short of printing money, marijuana is one of the last places to generate more revenue. He states that his group’s proposal, called the Michigan Cannabis Control and Revenue Act, “is not about pot. It’s about the revenue and jobs that are going to be created.” He says they would leave it to the Legislature to decide how to tax it, but any money that ends up coming in is money we don’t have right now. The coalition would earmark revenue for three specific areas – education, public safety, and public health. Challengers of legalization believe that the cost of greater drug abuse is more than any benefits from tax revenues.

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