Wednesday, May 6, 2015
May 2015 V.G.I.P. Update - by Ben Horner
The vote green initiative project (VGIP) was started as a cannabis law reform idea. The idea is that people from around Michigan could get together on both state and local campaigns to change marijuana laws and promote the individual right to get involved in government to make change. Over the last four years the VGIP has held numerous meetings around the state, completed multiple local petition drives to remove penalties for marijuana in their local communities, started a lobby for small business owners called the Cannabis Stakeholders Group, and commissioned two first rate polls that have been picked up by the mainstream press.
Today there are multiple groups both lobbying Lansing for medical marijuana and working on developing language for a statewide legalization campaign. There are so many groups that it can be hard to pinpoint what is really going on. The more one gets to know all of these groups the more one comes to the realization that many of the individuals crossover into multiple groups and obvious agendas of those involved become apparent.
NPRA, lead by Robin Schneider and Adam MacDonald represent a group of dispensaries based out of Detroit recently lead the testimony on the two house bills (4209 and 4210) that have been reintroduced this year to legalize and regulate dispensaries, medibles and concentrates. These bills failed last year in lame-duck session in the Michigan Senate. The VGIP having been involved in the discussion last year via a paid lobbyist for representation, it seems that no real progress has been made to resolve the issues regarding testing and labeling. So what is the hold up?
To understand the complicated conspiracy that has been playing out in all of these groups over the last five years is to know why we have been unsuccessful in self-regulating medical marijuana. I first was made aware of this “core group” of activists shortly after I opened Flint’s first medical marijuana dispensary in August of 2010. It was then that the leaders of the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers (MACC) approached me. I was told that for $800 per month I could become part of the exclusive club that was working to legalize dispensaries and protect those who were wrongly persecuted by law enforcement for participating in the program. Members included Jamie Lowell, Rick Thompson, Robin Schneider and many others that either owned or worked in a dispensary, aka compassion centers. A power struggle over control of the group and consistent attacks by the Attorney General to raid key leaders of MACC drove the group underground and the NPRA took over lobbying for the Bills that are today 4209 and 4210.
The “core group” of activists were also involved in several other organizations including, MI Norml, the Michigan Chapter of ASA, Cannabis Patients United (CPU), the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association and many others, including the VGIP. Rick Thompson, Jamie Lowell and Robin Schneider worked diligently to maintain control of legislation as well as gain influence over all Michigan marijuana advocacy groups. Behind the veil of secrecy the group CPU, comprised of lawyers, growers and other business professionals, who worked to exchange sensitive information regarding both the inner workings of pending court cases, local and state developments regarding medical marijuana amongst the “core group.” During lame duck, NPRA and CPU conspired to alienate CSG from the lobbying process and stalled any comprehensive modifications to the dispensary bills, particularly testing and labeling language that the administration was asking for. It became obvious that this “core group” was motivated to prevent the inclusion of the VGIP and the CSG to aid in the passing of the bills. They were more concerned with maintaining control and keeping things in limbo.
Today the two main groups that are developing language is MiLegalize and the Michigan Responsibility Council (MRC). MiLegalize is a grass-roots organization that promotes itself as for the rights of individual to cultivate cannabis in all forms. On the other side, the MRC has announced their intention to create a tiered marijuana legalization, that would keep grow rights and wholesale distribution in the hands of ten corporations. What is unusual is that both groups have overlapping participation by the “core group”. CPU and the NPRA have been involved in meeting with both MiLegalize and the MRC. They have worked to keep those who are not directly involved in the “core group” to be outside of the process.
I was first made aware of how this “core group” operated by several activists that were blacklisted for contradicting the core’s agenda. These individuals alluded to a conspiracy to take over the Michigan Medical Marijuana Program and carve the potentially lucrative marijuana market into pieces that would be awarded to the masters of the inner core. I witnessed this “inner core” personally attack others and myself for speaking out against them. Unfortunately this “inner core” has been able to continue to operate and now they pull the strings of all cannabis law reform.
Is NPRA and the rest of the marijuana advocacy groups, controlled by this “inner core”? Are the lawyers from CPU, secretly positioning themselves to maximize market share for their clients? Are both of these legalization campaigns a means to the same end of state oligarchy control of cannabis here in Michigan? The VGIP will be working to answer these difficult questions and secure a way for the uninitiated to play an important role in the future of cannabis here in Michigan.