Pubdate: Wed, 16 Mar 2016
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2016 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


The first time Brandy Zink lobbied in Congress for medical marijuana, 
she wasn't taken very seriously. But that was in 2000, long before 
the dam burst on the bud.

"Capitol Hill is very intimidating with those big stone buildings; 
you can hear every step you take echo down the halls," says Zink, a 
then-fledgling lobbyist in her early 20s. "At first it was very 
difficult to get an appointment with a representative. We'd be 
received politely, but there would be no follow-up. They would make 
jokes like asking, 'Do you have any samples?' or 'Are you high right 
now?' We were not taken seriously."

Zink is a Michigan ambassador for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a 
group that advocates for patients who need medical marijuana. She's 
heard a lot of reefer madness disinformation spouted by supposedly 
responsible representatives or their staff. But things have changed, 
and when she attends ASA's Unity 2016 conference later this month, 
she will spend a day lobbying in the Senate. That's because the 
Compassionate Access, Research, Expansion, and Respect States 
(CARERS) act, which would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, 
has been derailed because the Senate Judiciary Committee will not 
bring it up for hearings.

Zink is sure she'll get in to see a few senators this time around.

"Things changed with the Obama administration," she says. "I'll have 
scheduled appointments. I usually meet with staff, (who) may or may 
not share the opinion of their boss. They treat us as professionals 
now and their questions are more focused. Some of them have revealed 
that a loved one has benefitted from or would benefit from marijuana. 
Little by little, we're gaining allies."

Although she won't out anybody, Zink says many congressional staffers 
use marijuana. She does recount meeting a very enthusiastic staffer 
working for Rep. Brenda Lawrence.

"She said, 'I'm from California and I know all about this stuff.' It 
was the first time a staffer said (they) were all supporters of it."

Zink has epilepsy and uses marijuana to lessen her seizures, as well 
as the pain from another condition. She found out how helpful it was 
during her teen years, when trying marijuana resulted in fewer 
seizures. When her parents found out and cut her off, the seizures came back.

Zink took to advocacy in support of her medicine, and moved to 
Michigan from Ohio in 2008 when the medical law passed here. She 
founded the Michigan chapter of ASA and has been a leader in the 
organization ever since. When it comes to lobbying, Zink is concise, 
accurate, and honest. She's lobbied for a number of organizations 
over the years, including the Marijuana Policy Project, a leader in 
helping to pass medical marijuana laws across the country.

Although she gets a more polite response from politicians now, Zink 
admits lobbying hasn't led to significant legislation. Many states 
are taking baby steps toward legalization, Zink says, but none are 
willing to stick their necks out and lead the charge.

If the Drug Enforcement Agency reclassifies marijuana as a Schedule 
II drug, more scientific research can be done to study marijuana's 
medical effects. The CARERS act will also settle banking issues for 
dispensaries, protect states with medical marijuana laws, and allow 
Veterans Affairs doctors to use medical marijuana therapies. These 
changes dovetail with ASA's mission to "ensure safe and legal access 
to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic uses and research."

In Michigan, that means working to protect the medical marijuana law. 
Since it was passed in 2008, the state legislature has acted mostly 
to restrict the law. That makes it all the more important that the 
Michigan chapter of ASA, currently in active recruitment mode, is 
vital and effective. Member services include information about the 
medical use of marijuana, education for medical professionals, 
information for legislators, advocacy training for patients, and aid 
in accessing marijuana and medical care providers. There are 
resources and training for people who run dispensaries, such as what 
to do in the event of a police raid.

Comedian and activist Tommy Chong is returning to Detroit. He will 
appear at BDT Smoke Shops in Hazel Park, Chesterfield, and Utica on 
Friday, April 1 for photographs and signatures, and will speak at the 
Ann Arbor Monroe Street Fair and Hash Bash on Saturday, April 2. Last 
year, there was a line around the block at BDT's in Hazel Park, with 
people of all ages clutching their Cheech and Chong albums for him to 
sign, and Chong was given the key to the city by the mayor of Hazel 
Park and a few council members.

The Ann Arbor Monroe Street Fair and Hash Bash will take place 
starting at 10 a.m. on April 2 at the Diag on the University of 
Michigan campus. The rally is from noon to 1 p.m. and partying will 
ensue at the Monroe Street Fair until 7 p.m. The first Ann Arbor Hash 
Bash was in 1972 as a response to a Michigan Supreme Court ruling 
that left no law in place prohibiting marijuana for about a month. In 
addition, Ann Arbor's ordinance making marijuana a civil offense 
punishable by a $5 fine made the city a Midwestern Mecca for marijuana users.

The Monroe Street Fair, now in its 15th year, gives revelers a place 
to party off the U-M campus. While the city of Ann Arbor has lenient 
laws on toking, the university, which is on state property, doesn't. 
You can find the pertinent information at

Michigan NORML will hold its spring meeting at 3 p.m. on Friday, 
April 1 at the Fraternal Order of Eagles Club in Canton. The meeting 
is a fundraiser and will feature a live auction and a drawing for VIP 
passes for this year's Cannabis Cup.

Israeli medical marijuana products could be the next big import from 
the Middle Eastern country. Israel is already known to be far ahead 
of the United States in all aspects of medical marijuana. A business 
named Tikun Olam (Healing the World) has established greenhouses in 
Canada and is looking to move into the U.S. market. The company 
claims to have developed a strain with the highest level of THC ever 
recorded, in addition to a plant with the highest level of CBD in the 
world. See what you can do when the government doesn't forbid 
research on the stuff? Tikun Olam is eyeing a market potentially 
worth billions for its bud and extracts.

Marijuana haters have been stymied by the death of Supreme Court 
Justice Antonin Scalia. The states of Nebraska and Oklahoma have sued 
Colorado over its legal marijuana, claiming that weed is leaking 
across their borders and causing trouble. A decision here would 
ripple into Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, where recreational 
marijuana is legal. The court has not decided whether to hear the 
case. If the court chooses to pass on the suit, it will leave the 
Colorado law intact. Lacking the conservative voice of Scalia in this 
case is a plus for the pro-cannabis crowd.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom