Disagreement over push for stronger medical marijuana regulations

Posted at 5:41 PM, Dec 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-15 19:18:11-05

LANSING, Mich. – There’s a push for change and clarity in Michigan’s medical marijuana laws, but past support for this reform seems to be fading after changes were made to the dispensary bill last week calling for a tiered licensing system.

Tuesday, in an effort to once again draw support, a bipartisan coalition met at the capitol to explain why they think stricter regulations in pending medical marijuana legislation are needed.

When it comes to statewide medical marijuana law reform, both sides will tell you that helping patients is at the heart of the issue.

However, with recent, stricter regulations written into these bills stuck in the Senate, the question has become: do these regulations work more to crack down on illegal activity, or do they make it harder for patients to get their medicine?

“What we have now is basically a form of organized crime,” said State Senator Rick Jones.

Jones urged the bipartisan group Tuesday to pass the dispensary, non-smoking, and seed-to-sale tracking bills now with stricter regulations.

However, these regulations are costing pending legislation, namely HB 4209 and HB 4827, the support of many medical marijuana advocates that were previously on board.

“We see Senator Jones having to drum up support for the new version of the bills after last Tuesday’s hearing because he’s introduced some ridiculous restrictions into the language of the bills,” said Rick Thompson, board member with Michigan NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

“(Jones is) going to introduce a three-tier alcohol model system for distribution of the medical marijuana; that’s not demonstrated to be needed.”

Supporters like Thompson told FOX 17 they are no longer on board with these bills, but still support the non-smoking bill, or medical marijuana concentrates legalization through HB 4210.

The National Patients Rights Association Legislative Liaison Robin Schneider was also not attendance Tuesday but told FOX 17 both NPRA and several pediatric patient groups do not support the added regulations; instead they favor “vertically integrated” companies that would create a more affordable system for patients to get their medicine.

The point of contention here, again, is the proposed tiered licensing system for growers, distributors, and retailers in a system that is similar to alcohol regulations. Schneider said the tiered system could drive up prices, while those in favor believe it prevents a monopoly.

“I would rather have us start from scratch with positive interaction from patient organizations and not just business organizations, than to have these bills passed right now,” said Thompson.

“It disturbed me that the language has been so radically changed from where it was at the end of 2014: it’s gone from a functional piece of legislation to a non-functioning reward system for big commerce and big business.”

Yet supporters of the amended bills, like Michigan Cannabis Development Secretary Willie Rochon said, “Our patients are why we got into this business and the commitment to our patients is why we want strong regulations.”

Jones said that part of the problem with the current system is that patients “don’t know what they’re getting, there’s no guaranteed testing,” to explain how regulations could make product safer.

“That’s the goal here: to make sure that we bring this into the world of legality and that if somebody is truly sick, they can get something that’s like a prescription that’s safe and secure,” said Jones.

As far as a potential vote in the Senate, it’s clear that recent amendments to these bills have widened opposition as they move forward into 2016.