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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Emerging Face of the Michigan Marijuana Licensing Board - by Tim Beck

The second meeting of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board (MMLB) opened with an unexpected bang on August 21st in East Lansing.

Before any input from the medical cannabis community could be taken, Donald Bailey made a motion which was seconded by Vivian Pickard. The motion was to order all dispensaries who want to be considered for a state license, to shut down no later than mid September.  

Bailey's motion however, was derailed by David LaMontaine, who declared Bailey's move premature until testimony could be heard from the over 200 members in attendance. The Board agreed with Mr. LaFontaine's opinion and the fireworks began.  

The testimonies (limited to 3 minutes per person) went on for close to four hours. At the end of the day, the Board decided further input was needed from LARA and the Office of the Attorney General before a vote could be taken.

It is believed by some, that only the powerful, heartrending testimony from at risk patients, expert opinions from attorney's, and tough denunciations by political activists saved the day. What the final resolution of the matter will be is still unclear as of this writing.

In addition to the compelling drama of the meeting, a clearer picture of where this Board and its members are coming from was revealed to all. Two of the five MMLB members have a clear personal agenda.

Donald Bailey, a retired state police sergeant whose special expertise was busting drug offenders, is an affable, law and order, drug warrior. I spent close to an hour chatting with the man at an anti asset forfeiture rally up north some months ago, before his appointment to the Board and we bantered a bit before the Monday Board meeting on August 21st. I showed him his picture on the cover of last month’s MMM Report Magazine. I teased him a bit about how he looked like a Nazi in the picture, dressed in his police regalia. He replied with a slight smile, stating he already had a copy of the magazine. We then talked in generalities about the dispensary issue. He made it clear his mind was already made up. All "illegal" dispensaries have to go, it’s "the right thing to do." To his credit, Bailey has been transparent since day one. For him, this is a moral crusade. The "wrong” people who opened for business after the McQueen Michigan Supreme Court decision in 2013, deserve to be punished and denied a license. 

Unlike Mr. Bailey, MMLB Chairman and Lansing insider, Rick Johnson, does not seem to be motivated by any moralistic compulsions. In another life Johnson was Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, and last year he was a lobbyist for some investors who wanted to get a piece of the cannabis business action in Michigan. He is believed to have been a member of the "Michigan Responsibility Council" (MRC) whose goal in 2015 was to get a state sanctioned oligopoly on all legal marijuana sold in the state. MRC is now fighting to stop legalization in Michigan in 2018 because it is the "wrong" kind of model.  Johnson's appointment as MMLB Chairman was lavishly praised by MRC spokesperson, Suzie Mitchell, when the Governor's announcement came down.

Bailey and Johnson were not swayed by any testimony at the meeting. They said so directly.

Ms. Pickard, who initially seconded Bailey's shut down motion, stated after the hearing she could not support any vote that day. David LaFontaine made it clear he was not on board either. Board member, Nicole Cover, remains a cipher, as she was not in attendance on August 21st.

It appears Donald Bailey and Rick Johnson have entered into a marriage of convenience.

Charges by critics that Johnson (in so many words) is a sleazy shill for business interests who wants to cash in by getting rid of the competition, are becoming all too real. And Donald Bailey's moral absolutism and desire to punish lawbreakers, makes for an unholy alliance between the duo as they are two out of five Board votes.

What's up next?

Legal experts are divided as to whether or not the MMLB has the power to do what Bailey and Johnson want. No one knows if they have the majority of the Board in their pocket. No one knows if they will make another play to shut down dispensaries at the next Board meeting-- which could happen prior to September 15th.

It is certain that only the County Prosecutor or AG, Bill Schuette himself, has the power to bust an existing dispensary, not the MMLB. It is unclear however, as to whether this Board even has the power to arbitrarily deny a license to an already existing dispensary, simply because they refuse to shut down upon MMLB command.

What is completely certain is that a plethora of lawsuits will be hitting the fan, and some members of the community will be putting on their war paint. Guaranteed results, should Bailey and Johnson's misguided desires prevail upon the Board as a whole.  

Tim Beck is Chairman of the Safer Michigan Coalition. The Coalition's goal
is to fully legalize the use of cannabis by all adults in Michigan.


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