Legal marijuana’s long slog in Michigan

Aug 16, 2017 at 1:00 am

It seems like the more progress made against marijuana prohibition, the more that progress needs to be defended.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since 2008, but it's only now that the state has gotten around to figuring out a framework for distribution. By the time that system rolls out next year, it will have been a decade since the state could have said, "OK, this is how we're going to do it" and gotten on with setting things up. Instead, we had years of arrests and fighting in the courts and ruining people's lives.

The laws passed by the state legislature last year and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder set up a framework for production, processing, transportation, and sale of marijuana in Michigan. It's been a long slog. When the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act first passed, state Attorney General Bill Schuette's attitude was that the law says you can have it — but it doesn't say you can sell it.

The new bills allow for that, but setting up a system for sales could lead to a shutdown of existing facilities. At least that's one of the possibilities that patients and dispensary owners are concerned about when the Licensing and Regulatory Affairs board meets at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center in East Lansing Aug. 21.

One of the possibilities being considered is the state could shut down all facilities until it starts handing out licenses next year. That would probably leave tens of thousands of patients in the lurch. There are about 220,000 Michigan patients and many of them do not grow their own (not an easy task) or have caregivers. There is enough concern that some activists are urging patients to go to the meeting and speak up for their interests.

"We just want to make sure we have some really well-spoken patients to advocate for their interests," says one area dispensary owner who didn't want his name in this column. "If facilities are closed they won't be able to find what they need on the black market."

For those with the right connections, there is plenty of bud on the black market if that's what you need to turn to. But things such as edibles, oils, and salves are not commonly found there ­— not to mention the high-CBD products that epileptics rely on. And since pretty much every state has been late in implementing regulations regarding marijuana, patients would be left up in the air about how long they will be without access to medication.

There is no plan from LARA at this point, but shutting down dispensaries is one of the possibilities under consideration. And in today's political climate — with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions doing a lot of woofing regarding the war on drugs and seeking ways to cripple the medical industry — you don't want to leave this stuff to chance. Voices need to be heard.

That's how marijuana, medical and recreational, came out of the shadows. People stood up and said what they needed to say. That need continues.

If you're wondering what justice looks like when it comes to cannabis, check the Marijuana Justice Act introduced by Sen. Corey Booker (D-NH) last week. It's a total reversal of federal policy on the subject.

Among other things, Booker's bill would have the federal government remove marijuana from the DEA list of controlled substances, making it legal at the federal level; retroactively expunge the records of people who have been convicted for use and possession; give financial incentives to states to change their marijuana laws; and create a community reinvestment fund for communities negatively impacted by marijuana laws.

There are other provisions in Booker's bill, but those are some of the highlights. It would seem that after nearly 50 years of the failed war on drugs (and trillions of dollars and thousands of lost lives) the government might want to try a different approach.

"This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that's ever been filed in either chamber of Congress," says Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority, a national advocacy group. "More than just getting the federal government out of the way so that states can legalize without DEA harassment, this new proposal goes even further by actually punishing states that have bad marijuana laws. Polls increasingly show growing majority voter support for legalization, so this is something that more senators should be signing on to right away."

As good as the Marijuana Justice Act sounds, it has little chance of getting passed. However, never before have such righteous terms of justice made it so prominently into the discussion in the halls of Congress. And believe it or not, that is progress. We're never going to find justice until it enters the conversation.

Evidence is mounting that cannabis is a good thing, and the last refuge of prohibitionists is that "we don't know enough" about it. They claim that cannabis hasn't been scientifically studied and there could be something terrible in it. Well, here's what the scientists have to say.

In late June, more than 400 of them (from 25 countries) met in Montreal for the 27th Symposium of the International Cannabinoid Research Society. Based on the various results they reported you would have to doubt every bit of prohibition-era propaganda about how bad the stuff is. Researchers in various studies found that cannabinoids (active chemicals in cannabis) helped relieve high blood pressure, limited brain damage from strokes, have antitumor effects on glioblastoma multiforme (brain cancer), has reduced seizure effects in epileptics, and helps with nausea, diabetic pain, anxiety, and mood disorders.

Another thing discussed is that it has no significant effect on the brains of adolescent users, save for small issues with verbal free recall and prospective memory.

And it helps you sleep — but you knew that.

Look, humans have been using cannabis for thousands of years. It's so good for humans that our bodies have cannabinoid receptors. That means we are built to handle this stuff. Your body is ready for what cannabis has to give. Receptors are most numerous in your brain and your gut, but they are all over. However — and this is important — they are not in the parts of your brain that control breathing and heartbeat. That's why you can't overdose on the stuff. It will not cause you to stop breathing, or your heart to stop beating the way opioid drugs do.

Just by way of comparison let's consider ethanol, the active agent in alcoholic drinks. There are no ethanol receptors throughout the human body. Alcohol is processed through the liver. And while the liver can generally recover from low to moderate alcohol toxicity, we all know that heavy drinking destroys the liver.

But let's get back to the good stuff — cannabis. All the foot-dragging about "studying" cannabis is because they're hoping to find something wrong with it. Every time the government looks at it — through the Shafer Commission, or the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse — the results are that this stuff is harmless. But policy never follows their recommendations.

Now that is a good subject for a study: Why do government bodies support policies that are clearly not supported by science? Global warming, anyone?