Higher Ground: East Lansing City Clerk stalls democracy 

If you can’t beat ’em at the ballot box, do it with administrative and quasi-legal shenanigans.

That seems to be the way East Lansing City Clerk Marie Wicks and Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum have managed to keep a vote on legalizing marijuana off the East Lansing ballot this fall.

“In 11 other cities the same thing will be voted on,” says attorney Jeffrey Hank, chair of the Coalition for a Safer East Lansing, which ran the petition initiative. “They’re playing games with democracy. We are pissed off.”

On July 29, the Coalition for a Safer East Lansing turned in petitions to put the question of legalization on the ballot in East Lansing. There, as in 11 other cities that will vote on it next month, the language is to allow adults 21 and older to use, possess, or transfer one ounce or less of marijuana on private property. By law, Wicks, an official appointed by the city manager, had 45 days to validate the signatures. She dragged her feet, taking the entire 45 days and missing the Aug. 12 deadline to get it on the ballot.

Wicks then said the question would appear on the 2015 ballot. However Jeffrey Hank, an East Lansing attorney who is chair of the coalition, sued the city to place it on the 2014 ballot. Last week, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Jamo ruled that Wicks take the steps necessary to place it on this year’s ballot. I left a message at Wicks’ office but had not received a reply by press time.

Now Byrum says the question will not be on this year’s ballot because the ballots are already printed and some East Lansing voters have already turned in their absentee ballots. According to Hank, Byrum said it would cost $6,500 to reprint the ballots. When Hank offered to raise the money to pay for the reprint, he says Byrum came back with a $16,000 cost for the job.

“We’re willing to pay, but now the county clerk has raised the price,” says Hank. “I think we’re being screwed with at every level. It’s completely unacceptable.”

The East Lansing petition collection took longer than anticipated, although the initiative reached the city clerk more than 90 days before the election. At one point Wicks claimed that there were not enough valid signatures, but in the end there were enough for the petition to qualify. Throughout this process, East Lansing has retained counsel from the Lansing office of Miller Canfield, one of the top houses in the state.

“Why is the city of East Lansing spending so much money trying to delay democracy?” asks Hank. “The priorities of this government are astounding. They can’t even fix the sidewalks.” It does seem peculiar in view of the fact that three of the five East Lansing City Council members have publicly supported the initiative. The elected council hires East Lansing’s city manager, clerk, and attorney.

The proposed change in law would not apply to Michigan State University, and most students would not qualify to vote in the local election. Lansing voters passed a similar law in 2013.

Hank is still pursuing the issue, but it doesn’t look like voters in East Lansing will cast ballots on this question. The Coalition for a Safer Michigan set out with ambitious plans early this year to have this question on the ballot in as many as 19 cities across the state. Although the group fell short of that number, having the question on 11 ballots is still quite the accomplishment.

A proposed rule change affecting the medical marijuana registry program has been ripped by the state Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR).

The Bureau of Health Care Services, which is within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), has proposed requiring an online-only registration system for medical marijuana patients. The bureau argued that the online system would be more efficient and eliminate applications that were hard to read and missing information.

The National Patients Rights Association, a pro-medical marijuana group, issued a statement saying, “In light of the proposed online registration, we are concerned for the patients who may not have access to the Internet. This is most often the case for patients who are elderly, live in rural areas or are disabled. It is important to continue the option of paper applications for their convenience.”

Rep. John Pappageorge (R-Troy), chair of JCAR, seemed to side with patients on this one and ordered the bureau to review the requirement. He suggested that a paper application be available for patients who cannot access a computer. When a LARA official suggested that the paper requirement would cause problems for the department, Pappageorge replied, “You have to eat those problems. Focus on the public, not on the efficiency of your operation.” 

Technology and medical marijuana have crossed paths recently in a unique fashion. The Israeli company Syqe Medical has developed a pocket-sized, metered-dose inhaler for medical marijuana that is Wi-Fi-enabled and can be connected to a smart phone or tablet. In addition, 75 percent of the parts can be produced on a 3-D printer.

The Israelis have lapped us again when it comes to medical marijuana, while American politicians keep claiming we don’t know enough about the weed.

The Syqe inhaler, a vaporizer of sorts, can deliver a measured dose that patients and doctors can monitor to ensure that it’s being correctly administered.

“We are directly manipulating the human psyche in a very precise manner,” Syqe CEO Perry Davidson told the Wall Street Journal. “A physician could prescribe a custom-tailored, individualized treatment for that patient, and not have a hit or a miss, but a very close hit on the accurate dosing that the patient required.”

A video about the inhaler makes the case that this “precise and predictable” system will deliver cannabis with “pharmaceutical level precision.”

I don’t know that this is such a big breakthrough as the Syqe propaganda claims, but it sounds way cool that it can be made with a 3-D printer. Maybe it will send marijuana fans everywhere out to the 3-D printer store and push that technology over the top.

It took several months, but in July the sales of recreational marijuana surpassed that of medical marijuana in Colorado for the first time in July. That month, the state collected $838,711 from a 2.9 percent tax on the medical kind and $2.97 million from a 10 percent sales tax on the recreational kind. Calculations from the Cannabist, a Colorado site focused on marijuana news, made the call that recreational beat medical by just under $1 million in sales.

Speaking of taxes, the folks from nerdwallet.com have produced an analysis showing retail production and sales of marijuana in the United States would produce about $3 billion in taxes annually. The state-by-state analysis took usage, market size, and local tax rates into account and assumed a 15 percent excise tax on commercial production. Something in this range was reported several years back. Maybe if we keep repeating those words it will become true.

More by Larry Gabriel

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