Pubdate: Wed, 21 Oct 2015
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


It seems that some Michigan political bodies have finally been pushed 
to give up their wait-and-see approach to marijuana. The wait-and-see 
was really more of a stall-and-demure and even an 
ignore-it-and-maybe-it-will-go-away tactic. But citizen actions have 
finally forced lawmakers to step up. In Detroit and Lansing 
legislators are addressing the fact that medical marijuana patients 
actually have to buy their marijuana somewhere.

In Detroit that means that the first of two sets of regulations for 
medical marijuana facilities was passed. It's about time; there are 
an estimated 148 of them, about one for each of the city's 139 square 
miles, and they're not clearly legal or illegal.

The ordinance requires the shops to have a city license and police 
background checks for its operators. It also sets up an inspection 
procedure and prohibits drive-thru and 24-hour operations.

That was the easy part. The second set of regulations will address 
zoning and set how close they can be to schools, churches, parks, and 
other marijuana facilities. Those are crucial issues that will show a 
more accurate map of the city's attitude toward this burgeoning 
sector. For instance, one citizens group submitted a plan that would 
restrict them to industrial zones, and there have been suggestions 
that there should be as few as seven licensed dispensaries in the 
city. The City Planning Commission was set to discuss those issues 
Thursday [Oct. 15] but there has been no news of the results.

"We've been following it very closely," says Roger Mancini, manager 
at the Detroit Compassion Club (DCC) on Detroit's west side. "We're 
in a business strip mall; it would be very, very, hard for me to 
believe that we can't be here. ... It's up in the air and we pretty 
much have to play ball if they regulate everything."

Mancini points out that the DCC is a nonprofit social club that 
offers massage and guided meditation in addition to marijuana. He's 
not sure if the language of the regulations includes places like his. 
Although he adds, "Regulating and taxing our industry, I'm all for it."

That's what's happening in Lansing. A three-bill package is making 
its way through the legislature that would, in part, levy a 3 percent 
tax on gross retail income at marijuana dispensaries. House Bills 
4209, 4210, and 4287 do a whole lot more than levy taxes. They 
require state licenses for growers, processors, secure transporters, 
provisioning centers, and safety compliance facilities, create a 
five-member, governor-appointed licensing board, require product 
testing, requires a seed-to-sale tracking system, and allow for 
edibles, tinctures, and topical oils infused with cannabinoids. There 
are a number of other regulations, but those are the big ones.

HB 4209 sets up a three-tiered system of growers, delivery and 
processing facilities, sets the hiring of more state police and 
oversight officials at a cost of some $21 million. That probably 
means the already high cost of medical marijuana will probably go up. 
An ounce costs anywhere from $280 to $500 already, and when the fees 
start patients will pay the cost.

"What I wouldn't like to see is for them putting too high of a tax 
rate," says Mancini. "That will cause a bigger black market on the 
street. These provisioning centers are an alternative to the street 
level drug dealers. ... Our security guard will walk you to your car 
and watch you take off."

The push in Lansing has come in part because there are two active 
petition initiatives (the rumor that one of the initiatives had 
dropped out was wrong) working to put the question of legalizing 
recreational marijuana on the 2016 ballot. It seems that with the 
chance that things will open up even more next year the legislature 
has decided to finally take care of some old business and start 
building an infrastructure. It's only been seven years since the law 
was enacted.

The fact that public actions by citizen has spurred both groups to 
finally move shows just how laughably far behind the people that 
politicians are on the issue. Detroit gets a bit of a pass because 
Lansing should have taken the lead and many across the state have 
waited for that guidance. Still, when Lansing stood mute on it, 
Detroit should have gotten a handle on things long before there were 
148 storefronts in town.

The regulations that are coming through are not perfect and reflect a 
mindset that is still fearful of marijuana. And certainly deals were 
made to get the support of reluctant legislators. For instance hiring 
additional state police smells of a carrot to get law enforcement 
which defected at the last minute over a similar bill last year  on 
board. But even strong advocates such as State Reps. Mike Callton and 
Jeff Irwin have said the laws as they stand are about the best that 
could have gotten through the state house. Now they have to pass 
through the Senate.

Even with clear majorities of voters in support of easing 
restrictions, those who fear marijuana have been maintaining a stiff 
resistance. It's difficult to counter some 80 years of anti-marijuana 
propaganda and misinformation. And as these businesses establish 
themselves, there is still a stigma.

"We're emerging out of the shadows," says Mancini. "The uninformed 
person is still looking at us as a drug dealer; we're just in a storefront."

However, a storefront is a huge leap forward next to the marijuana 
distribution system that was in place 10 years ago. And all the 
hand-wringing about medical marijuana storefronts will be small 
potatoes next year if either of the recreational legalization 
initiatives is successful at next year's ballot. Marijuana has been 
mentioned favorably by candidates at the Republican and Democratic 
debates so it's coming down the pike - and that's what legislators in 
Detroit and Lansing are finally coming to grips with.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom