Michigan’s war on pot

I was at a meeting of the Detroit City Planning Commission when a proposed dispensary law was being discussed. One commissioner, clearly an opponent of marijuana stores, asked, "If we pass this, can we start closing these places tomorrow?"

Donald Bailey, a member of the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board that is tasked with setting up the rules for a marijuana distribution system by mid-December, did the same thing at the board's Aug. 21 meeting. Bailey opened the meeting with a proposal to tell all dispensaries whose owners want to be considered for a state license that they have to shut down by mid-September.

Luckily, others on the five-member board decided to hear testimony from the 200 or so people at the meeting. After four hours of testimony, the four MMLB members in attendance decided to seek information from the state licensing board and the attorney general's office before making a decision.

Bailey is a retired state police sergeant who apparently still carries a banner for the war on drugs. That's his right, and I guess his proposal should come as no surprise. However, it's a shame that people with that attitude — at city and state levels — are those tasked with setting up the system for patients to access marijuana. To start with, I'm pretty sure they don't believe that marijuana is medicine, because they appear to have no concern for patients here.

If all of the dispensaries shut down in September, are the epileptics just supposed to have seizures all the time until the new system opens up in mid-December? That seems to have been the attitude of legislators and law enforcement in Michigan since the medical marijuana law passed nine years ago. They basically said, "Well, the law says you can have this stuff, but it doesn't say you can have stores to supply it."

Then, instead of fixing that, they demurred, hemmed, hawed, blocked, arrested, ruined lives, and tried everything possible to take down legal patients, including reportedly pressuring the state crime lab to classify extracts in a manner that allowed prosecutions. (Thank you attorney Michael Komorn for exposing that.)

In the face of a medical marijuana law created by a vote of the people, the state amended the war on drugs to include a war on patients.

Another reason I think that much of our government leadership doesn't believe marijuana is medicine is that in all of the legislating that has been done, there has been nothing calling for medical qualifications or standards — or anything else regarding the medical side of this. (Americans for Safe Access has a Cannabis Care Certification program you can learn about at CannabisCareCertification.org.)

So far, the laws that have been passed set up a system that's more about law enforcement and who gets paid. We haven't yet seen what the MMLB will come up with, but we know there are going to be licenses that will have to be paid for by growers, processors, transporters, and retail sales at the state and local level. Then the state gets tax revenue too, although I don't begrudge that.

The city of Warren charges $2,500 to dispensary applicants just to process the application. In Detroit, a Caregiver Center license costs $1,470.70. However, there's a $160 site plan review fee, $1,000 for a conditional hearing, and $2,276 for an annual Detroit Health Department inspection, in addition to a few other charges.

Money is the main incentive the state has to put its system together — not compassion for patients, not the will of the people, not doing the right thing. So it should be no surprise that this is the system that's coming down the pike.

There are plenty of activists who want to make money somewhere in this system. And the vast majority of the people who have started dispensaries want to turn a profit. They got into the business early in order to already be there when the state came around. A lot of them got busted, incurred huge legal fees, and some went to jail. Who knows — they may be penalized for it in the long run.

I don't think they should be penalized, but even more so I don't think patients should be penalized — which is going to be the end result if retail outlets have to shut down.

This whole shutdown suggestion has me wondering if there are other — preferred — vendors they want to make room for. MMLB Chair Rick Johnson (a former Republican state speaker of the House) was praised by the Michigan Responsibility Council when he was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder back in May. But the MRC was the front for a group of investors who, a few years back, were trying to get a system of legal marijuana in which they controlled all production and sales. Now, the MRC opposes the 2018 ballot effort to "regulate marijuana like alcohol" because it's the "wrong" kind of system.

Hmm. I wonder if the "right" kind of system is one where they control everything?

There does need to be a system for marijuana regulation. The state has dragged its feet for far too long, and the lack of a clear vision in Lansing has left the system vulnerable to ideologues like Bailey and profiteers like Johnson. And nobody seems to be particularly concerned about the patients.

Looks like we're going to get something that mimics the for-profit medical care system we already have in place.

Closure has already hit the Reef, a caregiver center on Eight Mile Road that shut down on Sunday because owners anticipated having to apply for state certification. In a press release sent last week, the Reef announced that "all indications are that the Board will eventually vote in favor of closing all dispensaries in Michigan until each one is licensed through the State."

The Reef is already certified to operate in Detroit, a spokesperson told me, saying, "We don't know what the board is going to do. We don't know what authority they have to do any of this. But we're doing everything in anticipation. We did the same thing with the city of Detroit. We also complied to the terms the city set out."

Regarding patients, the spokesperson said: "Our plan is to reopen with state licensing. We're hoping that they can find their medicine elsewhere. ... This is a temporary situation to make sure we're there for the long haul."

I guess we could see a lot of this across the state.

Despite all that, folks who wish to pursue their dream of starting a marijuana-related business may want to check out the marijuana business seminar scheduled for Friday, Sept. 22 at Cobo Center. Sponsored by the Royal Oak-based Cannabis Legal Group, the seminar will focus on licensing, testing, and business operations. Visit bit.ly/cannabusiness092217 for ticket information.

About The Author

Larry Gabriel

Larry Gabriel covers cannabis for Metro Times. He also writes the Detroit Watch in the monthly Michigan Cannabis Industries Report. Larry's chapter "Rebirth of Tribe" in the book Heaven Was Detroit, from jazz to hip-hop and beyond chronicles the involvement of Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Harold McKinney,...
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