Marijuana Will Be Center Stage In 2014 Michigan Politics
Cutting-edge news is being created in many formats and in many ways by the people and politicians in Michigan. Here’s a summary of what to expect in the upcoming months.
One of the biggest stories to emerge from 2013 was the tale of three bills. HB 4271, the Provisioning Centers Act, was introduced in February to great media response- and then it sat, dormant, until other legislation was drafted and tied to it. HB 5104 is commonly referred to as The Concentrates Bill. Both bills were considered together in the House, in December, and both were passed by wide bipartisan margins.
As reported by famed videographer, legal guru and reporter Eric VanDussen, the two bills were assigned to the Senate’s Government Operations Committee. They face a Senate path that will be contentious and challenging; the National Patients Rights Association is the driving force behind the advancement of the measures to protect patients and caregivers. Optimism is high that the bills will be considered quickly by the Senate, but even if they are debated later in the year NPRA has a proven formula for coordinating testimony.
The biggest story of 2013-s legislative effort was the introduction and passage of SB 660, the pot-for-pharmacies bill advanced by Canadian marijuana mega producer Prairie Plant Systems. That bill was shepherded through both houses of legislature in one and a half months. The bill was signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder and awaits a federal rescheduling of marijuana before the new rules are enacted.
Other legislation that could make news in 2014 include the introduction of an industrial hemp bill; a bill to protect legally-registered patients and caregivers from discrimination and prosecution by Child Protective Services (CPS); and bills to either decriminalize or legalize marijuana. Decrim bills are already introduced in the House and Senate; their prospects are grim. As yet, no legalization bill has been introduced in the Michigan legislature but rumors of their existence continue to circulate among those in the know.
In 2013 the case of Ter Beek v Wyoming was argued before the Michigan Supreme Court. The city of Wyoming, Michigan has enacted an ordinance that bans all activity that stands in contradiction to federal law, a tactic seen by all as a way to ban activities protected by Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Act. That ordinance’s fate (and the greater issue of federal preemption of the state’s medical marijuana law) should be decided by a Court opinion issued in the first quarter of 2014.
The impact of a negative ruling could be devastating to the medical cannabis community, as was 2013-s Supreme Court decision in the McQueen case. That court ruling determined that cities did not have to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within their borders. Although many facilities shut down after the ruling, cities like Flint, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Detroit all maintain robust distribution industries without problem or additional crime.
Cases that impact individual caregivers and their families are likely to be heard in 2014, including a case before the Court of Appeals being argued by attorney David Rudoi on January 14. That case involves protecting family members from criminal consequences for the legally-registered cultivation of marijuana by a family member residing in the residence. A similar issue was raised in Oakland County in 2013 in the Green case; that case was eventually dismissed, but lower court rulings are not binding. A Court of Appeals case verdict would set precedent for the remainder of Michigan’s courts.
News has emerged that Michigan’s Attorney General has appealed the ex post facto dismissal of a case involving registered Michigan MMP participants. Also in the mix for 2014 is a renewal of the 2010 case against the owners and operators of Ferndale’s Clinical Relief distribution center. Court dismissals of charges related to the raids on the business, and the personal residences of the Center’s principals, are being challenged by Oakland County prosecutors; those arguments will be renewed in the coming months.
There were four cities in the entire United States that legalized the use and possession of marijuana for their citizens in 2013- and three of them were in Michigan. Jackson, Ferndale and Lansing made headlines when the ballot proposals were begun, when the signed petitions were turned in, and when the voters cast their ballots in support of all three measures. Headlines were also created when high-profile officials decried the Lansing effort and when a local leader was accused of misdeeds. Despite the negativity all three initiatives were passed by their constituents.
2014 holds the promise for additional local efforts. Several cities are being considered for similar work, all being coordinated by the leadership of the Safer Michigan Coalition. Although the list of cities is not ready for release, Detroit marijuana law reform legend Tim Beck has assured his supporters that the group will only enter initiatives in places where the likelihood of success is high.
And why not? Beck and fellow Safer Michigan leader Charles Ream have put together ballot initiatives in 13 campaigns, all of which have proven to be successful. Grand Rapids leaders instituted a decriminalization model in 2012 that was adopted by their voters; this gives Michigan a perfect 14 – 0 record in enacting local reforms to marijuana laws. The voters have spoken, and their message has been consistent since 2004.
The Green family was plagued by several court issues in 2013, including the CPS removal (and subsequent return) of Baby Bree. That
case made national headlines, as did Curtis Kile’s wheelchair-bound pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. Michigan is breaking new ground in the fields of pediatric cannabis use, in custody proceedings and in the advancement of hemp-based products that seem to skirt the legal issues inherent in the production and use of substances derived from the Cannabis Sativa plant.
Pediatric cannabis use was a central theme of the testimony delivered to Michigan’s legislature during the debates over the three bills mentioned above. Pediatric Cannabis Therapy, a Michigan-based association of parents and supporters, continues to make progress in advancing the issue into mainstream conversation across the nation through their social media efforts and news interviews. This is likely to continue through 2014 as the subject’s popularity is exploited by reporters.
Baby Bree is not a cannabis patient but her story is a common one. That may change in 2014 as more custody issues are brought to the attention of local media, highlighting a dark and unsavory policy practiced by Michigan’s social welfare system. The debate is advancing through the effort of Governor Rick Snyder, who signed into law a highly controversial policy requiring drug testing for all welfare recipients in the state.
Also likely to generate media coverage: the issue of possessing marijuana while driving. Attorneys feel that the medical marijuana Act supersedes a new law which requires marijuana to be transported as if it were a firearm. That law, signed by Gov. Snyder in 2013, has led to a spate of patients being charged with this new crime; it is only a matter of time before one of these cases makes its way to the Court of Appeals, and perhaps even to the Supreme Court for clarification.
Michigan’s Attorney General is one of the most unpopular men in the state and his anti-marijuana stance has provided plenty of fodder for his detractors. The issue of his dogged pursuit of legitimate marijuana use in Michigan will certainly be aired by media during the 2014 election cycle. His challenger, Democrat Mark Totten, may stop short of opining on individual issues or endorsing legalized marijuana but his campaign will be supported by Michigan’s medical marijuana community.
Like Totten, other candidates are coming out of the closet to reveal their marijuana-friendly stance without actually endorsing any specific cannabis issue. Sen. Vincent Gregory (D- Oak Park) and likely Republican nominee George Brikho have both announced their candidacy for US Congress; both men have professed sympathy for the plight of marijuana patients and their families while refraining from adopting the issue as central to their campaigns.
Jackson, Michigan is referred to as the birthplace of the Republican party; that city has a newly-elected and marijuana-friendly mayor, as is Lansing’s Mayor Virg Bernero. Neither men are cannabis users but they are leading the way toward making it acceptable to support their citizens who are. Expect more Council and Mayoral races to feature debates where marijuana discussions are in the forefront.
Departing from the Michigan Senate are Gregory and Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D- East Lansing). The race to determine their replacements will force candidates for their vacant positions to reveal their outlook on cannabis, and their responses will be compared to the support shown by the outgoing legislators. In 2013, newspapers included cannabis issues on their election-year candidate questionnaires for positions on Councils and Commissions. In years past, those seeking public office have been able to sidestep the sticky subject- that is no longer the case in Michigan.
Even the gubernatorial race will include a cannabis component. Governor Snyder has avoided taking a stance on the subject but he may not be able to dodge the question any longer. Mark Schauer, the Democrat who is likely to challenge Snyder for the office, would do well to pin the state’s top man down on the issue.