By Rick Thompson
The Michigan Medical Marijuana Act is one of only a handful of current laws that were crafted by the electorate instead of the elected. Initiated Law 1 of 2008 was composed by attorneys well-versed in the art of writing law, but their hand was guided by a community, not a caucus; the pen of law has been taken up by a new hand, and it writes in a much less compassionate script.
The House Judiciary Committee needed two overflow rooms to seat the attendees during last Thursday’s testimony. Unlike the previous two sessions this was the first time patients were to have their say before a panel of people likely to change their lives, and the patient community did not disappoint. This is Our Law, as we like to say, because it was written by us, it covers only us, and it is now being used as a sword to slay us. The people came to say the truth to power, to bring the streets to the Fourth Floor, to deliver stories of the sick to those sanitary chambers.
Maybe that’s not what they wanted to hear. In an article published on MLive, Rep. Horn, R-Frankenmuth, commented that many of the speakers testified on the medical benefits of marijuana instead of addressing the bills themselves. Each individual was given only two minutes to speak: I heard every one of those patient testimonials and almost all of them said Do Not Change The Law. No interpretation necessary. Send these bills back to the work group and try again.
A brave group of lawmakers in the city of Caro did just that in February. After spending months in their chambers working out an ordinance to regulate medical marijuana the City Council held a public hearing on the issue. The people said the proposed ordinance was well-intentioned but inadvertently caused significant problems for patients and caregivers; the Council decided to spend a little more money, take a little more time, and get the job done right.
Horn and Rep. Cavanagh, D-Redford, have conducted this second effort to adjust the law in a more restrictive fashion than Rep. Durhal did in 2010. Durhal empowered Compassion Clubs, industry groups and individual patients to sit at the table with State Police, the Prosecuting Attorneys, MDCH and other agencies where issues could be raised and refuted. Misinformation provided by one side could be disputed by the other, a reasonable semblance of truth could be achieved, and from that point both sides could hash out policy that provided authority the tools they need without adding unnecessary encumbrance to the lives of the sick and injured.
There was no such invitation to the community at large to participate in the Republican-controlled House work group. To be sure, this set of 9 issues is much more reasonable than what the original 8 Bills had proposed; changes to the Bills have been made, and some of them have come via suggestions from activists and patients. Not every issue under consideration is detrimental. It takes more than two minutes to convince a Representative that marijuana should not be treated like a gun when in a car, however, or that giving the police greater access to the patient database is not really protecting patients, or that restricting doctors with rules exclusive to marijuana recommendations creates hardships.
By keeping the community at large away from the work group Horn created the problem he complains about: a lack of dialog between legislators and citizens about the actual language of the bills themselves. Democracy is dispensed in two minute increments, and you are not allowed a second serving. Given that scenario, what sick person would not take the opportunity to tell their story?
Amendments to these Bills are being considered by the Legislators, which are really amendments to the MMA, a law created by patients, for patients, with liberty and justice for all. Many of the nine proposed changes seem to have been written by law enforcement agencies that have suddenly become law creation agencies. Given the input the Committee has now received from the patient community we should expect the ink to dry on amendments that offer fewer restrictions and more protections for patients.
Perhaps if that pen of law were held by a disabled person, or someone with a significant illness, the script would contain more Constitution and less calligraphy.