Hello, Green Leaf Road?

Higher Ground

May 13, 2015 at 4:00 am

It was a smart bit of positioning the MI Legalize team has been doing in relation to the whole Michigan roads and infrastructure funding argument. They were smarter than Gov. Rick Snyder and his Republican-controlled legislature were in parsing the mood of state voters on raising the sales tax by 1 percent — something Snyder went all in on before failing spectacularly.

One of the cornerstones of the MI Legalize plan, which hasn't been finalized or registered with the state for petitioning, is that 40 percent of the taxes raised will go to fixing the roads. Voters didn't want to pay the sales tax, but they may well decide to let the stoners pay for it.

There are three different known efforts to use petition initiatives to potentially put the question of legalizing marijuana in Michigan on the 2016 presidential ballot. MI Legalize leaders have publicized the major features of their approach the past several weeks and have drawn a line in the sand regarding no changes to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) and maintaining rights for home growers. In addition to roads, another 40 percent of taxes would go to education and 20 percent to local municipalities.

The Michigan Cannabis Coalition (MCC) plan would require a 10 percent tax to go to education, public safety, and public health. Home grows would be limited to two plants, and those would require a license.

Another group called the Michigan Responsibility Council (MRC) has been making noise. That group hasn't publicized its agenda, but according to a Feb. 14 post from Robin Schneider on the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association blog it would repeal the 2008 MMMA.

Schneider is a legislative liaison for the National Patients Rights Association. She says she met with the MRC and they were proposing a system in which Michigan would be divided into 10 regions for 10 large growing operations by its investors, and home grows would not be allowed. The MRC would also tax medical marijuana, which is currently not taxable. The MRC has not yet put up a website and has not released its intentions.

Schneider is standing by her post, and her concerns. "The gist of that is that if they want to do full legalization and repeal patients' rights in the process we don't support that," says Schneider, who is one of eight lobbyists representing patient or business interests regarding marijuana in Lansing. "We are a pro patient organization. We don't work on legalization ourselves. Our bottom line is if the patients are put in jeopardy that's not something we would support. We feel strongly that the state needs to take care of the medical marijuana patients before we even have a talk about legalization."

None of the three organizations is out on the street collecting the 250,000-plus signatures needed to get an initiative on the ballot yet. Although it seems that if all of them get out there, voters will be confused as to which petition they're signing when approached. I can't imagine the average citizen will understand the difference between them all beyond the basic question of legalizing marijuana without a massive and expensive education campaign.

That's where the MI Legalize positioning comes in. If the group can identify themselves as the one that's going to pay to fix the roads, maybe they can gain some traction with the public. Also, MI Legalize is dangling another carrot in the 20 percent for local municipalities to do whatever they please with.

Just below the surface of all this is the question of how to handle medical marijuana when recreational use is legalized. Many bystanders consider the medical marijuana movement as nothing more than a steppingstone to full legalization. However, there are legitimate medical uses that need to be maintained and expanded.

"There are people with serious medical conditions who need marijuana for their own health and well-being," says Schneider.

Some of those people are those who use marijuana to control epileptic seizures. I wrote about one of them in my last Higher Ground column. I also know of people who use it to control symptoms of multiple sclerosis, diabetic pain, and in treating cancer. The process of finding out which strain works for patients and their illness depends on the availability of a large variety of strains and ways of delivering them. The Drug Enforcement Agency's insistence that marijuana has no "accepted medical use" and its roadblocks to research contributes to the attitude in the general public that medical marijuana is a ruse.

Schneider fears that a system with just a few large farming operations will lead to less variety and cut out the boutique grows that cater to specific patients' needs.

"I've seen where recreational is different from medical," says Schneider. "When you have 10,000 plants in a mass production situation the quality goes down. Patients that need specific strains with specific ratios of cannabinoids are left out. They're not going to be tailoring plants to the needs of specific patients."

The MI Legalize route leaves that open, and the MCC plan does to a lesser extent. MI Legalize would allow more than two plants for home grows. The MMMA allows patients 12 plants. Contrary to the claims of some, home grows are already regulated by the state through the MMMA system.

In the long run, the question of legalizing marijuana seems a foregone conclusion. The real question is how and by whom. MI Legalize, in tying marijuana taxes to repairing the road infrastructure, seems to have found some leverage to appeal to the state's voters. The next trick is getting enough of them to know what it's all about.

Larry Gabriel writes the Stir It Up and Higher Ground columns for the Detroit Metro Times and is editor of The American Cultivator.