Pubdate: Wed, 25 May 2016
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2016 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


When the MILegalize petitions proposing the legalization of 
recreational marijuana in Michigan hit the streets last summer I 
signed the first one that came my way. That was sometime in July.

Now my signature probably won't count. That's the big issue facing 
the folks who organized the legalization effort right now: whether or 
not petition initiative signatures collected outside of a 180-day 
window are valid. And it doesn't look good. The most immediate answer 
to that question will be rendered by Gov. Rick Snyder when he decides 
to sign, or not sign, S.B. 776, the recent legislation that sets a 
hard 180-day window for collecting signatures on a petition initiative.

"I think we're headed to court," Lansing attorney Jeffrey Hank, the 
MILegalize chair, said on the WKAR Lansing program Off the Record 
last Friday. Although he also quipped: "I think the governor might be 
a closet fan of ours ... where is he going to get the money for roads 
and schools?"

Hank is referencing the fact that the MILegalize initiative language 
specifically says that taxes raised on marijuana sales would be 
dedicated to schools, roads, and local municipalities. That could be 
significant. In Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, the 
state collected $135 million in marijuana taxes in 2015. Michigan, 
with nearly twice the population of the Rocky Mountain State, would 
probably see a lot more. When I spoke with Hank earlier in the week, 
he said the Michigan market would be second only to California's - if 
both states were to legalize.

But most folks anticipate that Snyder will sign the legislation that 
would not only block the MILegalize petition, but also the petition 
to ban fracking in the state. Fracking is the controversial process 
of mining gas and oil that has been blamed for causing earthquakes 
and other environmental problems.

Hank said the oil and gas industry came out hard against the 
anti-fracking initiative. Off The Record host Tim Skubick suggested 
the MILegalize petition might be "collateral damage" in the effort to 
defeat the fracking ban. Collateral or not, the damage has been done 
to the chance to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Michigan.

I spoke with Hank before he appeared on the television show. 
MILegalize fully expects to move forward and turn in its petitions on 
June 1. They have more than 300,000 signatures that have already been 
verified by Practical Political Consulting, the same company the 
state uses to challenge petitions. MILegalize needs 252,523 good 
signatures; most petition initiatives gather more than necessary to 
protect themselves against disqualified signatures.

"We believe that the process we're going to use squares with the 
law," Hank told me.

But now it looks like the law will change midstream for this year's 
initiatives. A number of news media have declared the MILegalize 
effort dead, and this year's petition may well be. A court challenge 
could easily drag out past a deadline to get the question printed on 
the ballot. And it's not likely the courts will smile on the effort 
to challenge the law.

"It's a concern, but usually with election stuff they will expedite 
it," Hank told me. "It will end up at least at the Michigan Supreme Court."

Wherever it ends, MILegalize put in a great effort for a group with 
no funding or support from the national organizations that tend to 
underwrite these efforts. They got an endorsement from the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, although it came late 
in the game. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which was a leader 
in getting the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act passed in 2008, has its 
eyes on California, the biggest state with a legitimate chance to 
win. California was the first state with a medical marijuana law, in 
1996, and it would also complete a West Coast - Oregon, Washington 
State, Alaska - market of legal recreational marijuana.

"We're a homegrown group," Hank told me. "MPP has not been helpful; 
we don't fit into their national plan. We're the only statewide group 
this year to have a chance to make it that is not being backed by any 
national money. We actually raised $1 million in our campaign, and 
we've had just one major donor, not a national guy. It's pretty 
phenomenal that we've made it this far without their help."

But there is still a long way to go. It's obvious that the state 
legislature is not going to move on this, even though polls show a 
majority of Michigan voters favor recreational legalization of marijuana.

If the question is not on the ballot this year, Hank says it will 
come around again in 2018. "We're going to move this forward no 
matter what happens," he says.

Carded up

I let my MMMA certification go for a couple of years, mostly because 
it didn't make much difference for what I was doing. I've started 
checking out dispensaries in the area now that I'm recertified - and 
hoping I don't get asked to leave, as often as I have in the past 
when I start asking questions. What I've noted is that the recent 
change in law in Detroit has made everybody pretty conservative, and 
the only thing for sale is buds. I visited a dispensary last week 
that had everything at $10 a gram. Not a bad price. I've seen a lot 
of ads in recent years listing prices at $15 to $30 per gram. You 
can't find infused products on the shelves, but if you know the right 
people, they're not that hard to find. We should not, however, have 
to slide into parking lot deals with a medical marijuana program in 
existence in Michigan.

How different it is in Washtenaw County, where officials are more 
tolerant. I went into an establishment in the Ann Arbor area that had 
a full array of products, from buds and infused candies to tinctures 
and oils. Many medical users need these products to maintain their 
health and privacy. I've talked with an epilepsy patient who uses 
gummy candies at work to avoid seizures and problems with coworkers. 
Bravo to Washtenaw County's tolerant government bodies.

Prescription, anyone?

There are no prescriptions for medical marijuana in Michigan - just 
doctors' recommendations and state certifications. However, 
Walgreen's brought up marijuana on its Tumblr blog recently. Under 
the question "What is medical marijuana?" the post read: "Marijuana 
has been used to relieve pain, digestive, and psychological disorders 
for more than 3,000 years - but the efficacy, safety and legality of 
the drug are still widely debated."

The post went on to discuss what conditions it is used for and how to 
use it. Could this be a bit of clarity on the part of a responsible 
corporate citizen? Or are the folks at Walgreen's anticipating just 
how much money could be made dispensing prescriptions for marijuana? 
Maybe it's a bit of both.

Still seeking clarity

Congress finally approved giving Veterans Administration doctors the 
ability to recommend marijuana for veterans, a reversal of last 
year's decision. Still, as long as the plant is considered a Schedule 
1 drug with no accepted medical use by the federal government, it's 
not clear if doctors can be prosecuted for making the recommendation.

"It's looking like this could finally be the year the federal 
government stops making veterans jump through costly, time-consuming 
hoops just to get legal access to medical marijuana," says Tom 
Angell, of the group Marijuana Majority. "Cannabis has shown great 
promise in helping veterans deal with PTSD and treat chronic pain, 
and it's an increasingly attractive alternative to opioids."
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