Thanks to a restrictive law and an even more restrictive reading of it by the state Supreme Court, medical marijuana patients in Michigan have only one place to turn for their medicine: themselves. They must either grow it at home or buy it from a caregiver who grows for a short list of other people.
MMJ proponents had high hopes last year that that was about to change. Two bills that would allow dispensaries in the state and make it easier for patients to buy cannabis passed the state House of Representatives by wide bipartisan margins.
But now they’re stuck in the mud again. A Republican opponent of medical pot has stalled the bills in the Senate, where they appear likely to stay for the foreseeable future.
“I’m going to sit on them for awhile,” said Sen. Randy Richardville, chairman of the Senate Government Operations committee, where the bills are pending. “We don’t want this ballot initiative to take over. I believe a vast majority of people who voted for it believed we were talking about prescription type of marijuana.”
Michigan voters approved MMJ at the ballot box in 2008 with a 63 percent majority and a majority of votes in every county in the state. Yet local and federal law enforcement have repeatedly targeted patients and providers for growing and selling cannabis under the law.
The Michigan Supreme Court eventually ruled that dispensaries aren’t allowed. The court will soon hear a new case that could determine the fate of MMJ entirely: A growing list of communities are trying to re-criminalize medical pot by saying any federal crime is a local crime. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.
An appeals court rejected that argument, saying the towns were duty bound to state rather than federal law, but the movement to completely undo the will of the vast majority of Michigan’s voters has attracted the state’s prosecutors and its bar association, groups with little apparent respect for democracy.
In the meantime, medical weed proponents introduced two bills in the legislature in hopes of making life easier for patients. But they quickly ran into the impressive brick wall erected by the opposition.
The first bill would permit the manufacture and sale of marijuana-infused products, such as edibles, oils and lotions. These products can be critical to patients who have a hard time smoking.
The second proposal would let municipalities decide whether to allow dispensaries. It would also screen felons from dispensary work and would mandate cannabis testing.
Some Republicans in the Senate fear a return to the time when medical pot shops were common across the state, before the Supreme Court banned them.
“Lansing had 38 licensed dispensaries,” said Sen. Rick Jones. “They were in stores, next to schools and next to churches that had rehab programs. I do not favor the wild, wild west of dispensaries coming back.”
Yet without regulated storefronts, patients are left with few options. Caregivers are hard to find, and home-growing is an expensive, laborious process that demands attention to detail.
“By not voting for the dispensary bill, you’re saying it’s OK to have people growing their own in communities,” said state Rep. Mike Callton, Republican and sponsor of the dispensary bill. “Let’s say if I had cancer and got a prescription to help with my appetite. I’ve never grown anything successfully in my life, and it takes four to six months for it to become medicine. I might be gone in six months.”