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Medical marijuana bills referred to Michigan Senate’s Government Op. Committee

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On January 8, a medical marijuana “provisioning center” bill was referred to the Michigan Senate’s Government Operations Committee, which is headed by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R- Monroe. House Bill 4271 was introduced by Representative Mike Callton, R-Nashville, and it was passed by an overwhelming majority of his colleagues (95-14) on December 12, 2013.

House Bill 5104 was also passed by a vast majority of the House of Representatives on December 12 and has likewise been referred to Sen. Richardville’s Government Operations Committee. HB 5104 would amend Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act’s definition of “usable marijuana” to include “plant resin, or extract” of the marijuana plant. HB 5104’s primary sponsor was Senator Eileen Kowall (R -White Lake). Some proponents of HB 5104 argue that medical marijuana patients should not be forced to smoke their medicine of choice if they could benefit from another ingestion method.

HB 5104 may provide some clarity for medical marijuana patients and law enforcement officials after Michigan’s Court of Appeals issued an opinion on July 11, 2013, which held that “edible products made with THC extracted from marijuana resin are not usable marijuana under the MMMA.” On September 5, 2013, an appeal was filed with Michigan’s Supreme Court requesting that the COA's opinion be overturned in that criminal case originating out of Oakland County.

If passed by the Senate in its current form, HB 4271 would allow commercial entities in Michigan to acquire, possess, manufacture, deliver, transfer, transport, sell, supply and provide medical marijuana to qualified patients and caregivers who have registered with Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).

HB 4271 further provides that local municipalities may decide whether medical marijuana provisioning centers will be allowed to operate within their jurisdictions. The law would prohibit new provisioning centers from being “located within 1,000 feet of the property line of a preexisting primary or secondary school” or sharing “office space with a physician.” HB 4271 would additionally require provisioning centers to “have a security alarm system that is enabled when a provisioning center agent is not present.”

Sen. Richardville’s Government Operations Committee has not yet set a date for hearings regarding HB 4271 or HB 5104. Robin Schneider, the legislative chairwoman for the National Patients’ Rights Association (NPRA) says she is hopeful the committee will schedule the bills for hearings in the very near future. “We are encouraging medical marijuana patients to contact their state senators and ask them to support HB 4271 and HB 5104 when they come up for a vote,” said Schneider.

Dan Downing, a medical marijuana advocate from East Jordan, recently sent an email to State Senator Howard Walker asking him to support HB 4271 and HB 5104. Sen. Walker represents Michigan’s 37th District, which encompasses Grand Traverse, Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, Cheboygan, Presque Isle, Mackinac and Chippewa counties.

Downing informed Sen. Walker that he believed HB 4271 “would allow for communities to provide above-ground, safe access to cannabis for those patients who possess a state-qualification to access the plant. Communities that do not wish to regulate such facilities are not mandated by this legislation to do so.” HB 5104 “would provide qualified patients legal protections for their use of non-smoked cannabis derived topicals and edibles, as well as cannabis-based extract products,” said Downing,

In a reply email to Downing, Sen. Walker stated that: “House Bill 4271 would allow local municipalities to decide the fate of medical marijuana dispensaries by banning them, permitting them, or placing regulations on them. House Bill 5104 would extend the use of medical marijuana to include non-smoked forms. I am concerned that these pieces of legislation will increase access to marijuana to those not permitted to possess it, put more strain on our law enforcement personnel, and expand the scope of the medical marijuana law above what voters intended in 2008. Both of these bills have passed the House are awaiting assignment to a Senate committee. In the event that the legislation makes it to the full Senate for a vote, these concerns would have to be addressed before I could contemplate voting in support.”

Downing says he completely disagrees with Sen. Walker’s assessment and he maintains the regulations contained within HB 4271 and HB 5104 would actually deter medical marijuana from entering the black market.

This reporter contacted Sen. Walker’s office by phone and by email and asked his staff why he believed HB 4271 and HB 5104 would increase access to marijuana to those not permitted to possess it and how the bills would put more strain on law enforcement personnel. Sen. Walker and his staff did not respond to this reporter’s inquiries prior to publication of this piece.

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