Pubdate: Wed, 13 May 2015
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


It was a smart bit of positioning the MI Legalize team has been doing 
in relation to the whole Michigan roads and infrastructure funding 
argument. They were smarter than Gov. Rick Snyder and his 
Republican-controlled legislature were in parsing the mood of state 
voters on raising the sales tax by 1 percent - something Snyder went 
all in on before failing spectacularly.

One of the cornerstones of the MI Legalize plan, which hasn't been 
finalized or registered with the state for petitioning, is that 40 
percent of the taxes raised will go to fixing the roads. Voters 
didn't want to pay the sales tax, but they may well decide to let the 
stoners pay for it.

There are three different known efforts to use petition initiatives 
to potentially put the question of legalizing marijuana in Michigan 
on the 2016 presidential ballot. MI Legalize leaders have publicized 
the major features of their approach the past several weeks and have 
drawn a line in the sand regarding no changes to the Michigan Medical 
Marijuana Act (MMMA) and maintaining rights for home growers. In 
addition to roads, another 40 percent of taxes would go to education 
and 20 percent to local municipalities.

The Michigan Cannabis Coalition (MCC) plan would require a 10 percent 
tax to go to education, public safety, and public health. Home grows 
would be limited to two plants, and those would require a license.

Another group called the Michigan Responsibility Council (MRC) has 
been making noise. That group hasn't publicized its agenda, but 
according to a Feb. 14 post from Robin Schneider on the Michigan 
Medical Marijuana Association blog it would repeal the 2008 MMMA.

Schneider is a legislative liaison for the National Patients Rights 
Association. She says she met with the MRC and they were proposing a 
system in which Michigan would be divided into 10 regions for 10 
large growing operations by its investors, and home grows would not 
be allowed. The MRC would also tax medical marijuana, which is 
currently not taxable. The MRC has not yet put up a website and has 
not released its intentions.

Schneider is standing by her post, and her concerns. "The gist of 
that is that if they want to do full legalization and repeal 
patients' rights in the process we don't support that," says 
Schneider, who is one of eight lobbyists representing patient or 
business interests regarding marijuana in Lansing. "We are a pro 
patient organization. We don't work on legalization ourselves. Our 
bottom line is if the patients are put in jeopardy that's not 
something we would support. We feel strongly that the state needs to 
take care of the medical marijuana patients before we even have a 
talk about legalization."

None of the three organizations is out on the street collecting the 
250,000-plus signatures needed to get an initiative on the ballot 
yet. Although it seems that if all of them get out there, voters will 
be confused as to which petition they're signing when approached. I 
can't imagine the average citizen will understand the difference 
between them all beyond the basic question of legalizing marijuana 
without a massive and expensive education campaign.

That's where the MI Legalize positioning comes in. If the group can 
identify themselves as the one that's going to pay to fix the roads, 
maybe they can gain some traction with the public. Also, MI Legalize 
is dangling another carrot in the 20 percent for local municipalities 
to do whatever they please with.

Just below the surface of all this is the question of how to handle 
medical marijuana when recreational use is legalized. Many bystanders 
consider the medical marijuana movement as nothing more than a 
steppingstone to full legalization. However, there are legitimate 
medical uses that need to be maintained and expanded.

"There are people with serious medical conditions who need marijuana 
for their own health and well-being," says Schneider.

Some of those people are those who use marijuana to control epileptic 
seizures. I wrote about one of them in my last Higher Ground column. 
I also know of people who use it to control symptoms of multiple 
sclerosis, diabetic pain, and in treating cancer. The process of 
finding out which strain works for patients and their illness depends 
on the availability of a large variety of strains and ways of 
delivering them. The Drug Enforcement Agency's insistence that 
marijuana has no "accepted medical use" and its roadblocks to 
research contributes to the attitude in the general public that 
medical marijuana is a ruse.

Schneider fears that a system with just a few large farming 
operations will lead to less variety and cut out the boutique grows 
that cater to specific patients' needs.

"I've seen where recreational is different from medical," says 
Schneider. "When you have 10,000 plants in a mass production 
situation the quality goes down. Patients that need specific strains 
with specific ratios of cannabinoids are left out. They're not going 
to be tailoring plants to the needs of specific patients."

The MI Legalize route leaves that open, and the MCC plan does to a 
lesser extent. MI Legalize would allow more than two plants for home 
grows. The MMMA allows patients 12 plants. Contrary to the claims of 
some, home grows are already regulated by the state through the MMMA system.

In the long run, the question of legalizing marijuana seems a 
foregone conclusion. The real question is how and by whom. MI 
Legalize, in tying marijuana taxes to repairing the road 
infrastructure, seems to have found some leverage to appeal to the 
state's voters. The next trick is getting enough of them to know what 
it's all about.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom