Senator Rick Jones In the Here and Now
In the March 2011 issue of the old "Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine" (which was de facto put out of business by Oakland County law enforcement at the end of that year) I wrote a column called "Senator Rick Jones--In the Eye of the Storm." That January, Senator Jones had just assumed control of the Senate Judiciary Committee upon his elevation to the State Senate in November. He had been an outspoken critic of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act when he was a State Representative. He was feared and hated by many in the medical cannabis community.
I stated in my column, "for all intents and purposes, Rick Jones (R) Grand Ledge will be the point man in the legislature on medical cannabis issues ... As Chairman of Judiciary and a leader of the Republican Caucus ... the Senator will be cutting a wide swath...for the next eight years"
My predication could not have been more accurate.
Fast forwarding to today, I thought it was a good time to reminisce with the Senator, especially after he vigorously stepped up for cannabis patients, against "Michigan Responsibility Council" (MRC) lobbyist Steve Linder who, along with MMFLA board members Donald Bailey and Rick Johnson want to shut down all existing dispensaries in Michigan until new licenses are issued sometime in the next nine months.
In an incident widely covered by media across the state, the Senator confronted Mr. Linder at a meeting of the Senate Health Policy Committee, which is considering a change in the law to keep existing dispensaries open until state licensed facilities are up and running.
With a sneer in his voice, the Senator asked Mr. Linder: "would you mind telling us what millionaire you work for, who you are lobbying for and who wants a monopoly in this business, because we can all see what's being said."
Mr Linder did not answer the question.
To some, the Senator's comment was surprising but to others, it was classic Rick Jones. No sugar coating and not a huge shock.
The Senator essentially acknowledged he was the primary legislative deal maker, responsible for the passage of the MMFLA in 2016.
I can't take all the credit for this...but the first thing I did was start a work group with law enforcement, getting everyone in the same room. That was key. We had meetings with prosecutors, sheriffs, and the state police. I didn't put anyone looking to make money in (the work group)"
What happened over time is a consensus developed. After intensive discussion, trial balloons and back and forth dialogue, key law enforcement players became either supportive or neutral on the subject of state licensed dispensaries, grow operations and ancillary businesses.
As to whether the bills sponsored by Representative Yousef Rabhi (D) in the House and Senators David Knezek (D) and Senator Jones in the Senate to keep dispensaries open will make it all the way to the Governors desk, is not totally certain as of this writing.
"We have the votes in Committee to report this to the floor" Senator Jones explained. "I think we can get it done faster in the Senate" then in the House.
As far as the situation in the House is concerned, Representative Rabhi is cautiously optimistic about ultimate passage of the bills.
"I believe the votes are there, if the bill can get a hearing" he explained.
Rep. Rabhi went on to say his bill has some Republican
co-sponsors, and the latest action in the more conservative State Senate is very encouraging.
As far as Rick Jones is concerned, Rep. Rabhi went on to say that he and the Senator "agree on a number of things and he (Jones) is phenomenal to work with."
In the final analysis, Senator Rick Jones will be in power until the end of 2018, when he will be term limited out after 14 eventful and fulfilling years in Lansing. His finger prints are on many, many laws passed during those years.
As far as medical cannabis patients are concerned, at the end of our interview, the Senator reiterated his unwavering support for protecting patients from persons and groups driven by self serving motives.
As far as the ultimate legalization of cannabis for everyone in Michigan is concerned, the Senator is just not there right now.
"I support medical. I'm solid on that" he said, "but not recreational. When I was a cop, I saw too much mayhem on the road. I just don't want to open this up...to more"
In any event, I will be so bold as to predict that Senator Rick Jones will be long remembered as a relentless, patient, successful power broker. A man who called things as he saw them and usually got what he wanted at the end of the day.