Gov. Rick Snyder signed a package of bills in December 2016 that constitute the largest change in medical marijuana laws since voters legalized its usage.
When voters approved the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act in 2008, dispensaries opened up across the state. However, in State V. McQueen, which involved a medical marijuana dispensary in Isabella County, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that dispensaries were not legal businesses covered by the act.
After the court's decision, many dispensaries closed. The remaining centers have existed in a gray area often being shut down. Some have been permitted based on decisions by local governments.
Snyder's approval of the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act sets up a process for regulating growers, processors, secure transporters, provisioning centers and safety compliance facilities. The MMFLA allows municipalities to opt in and pass their own regulations for dispensaries and other medical marijuana facilities in the jurisdiction.
The act also creates a Medical Marihuana Licensing Board, which will consist of five members appointed by Snyder. This board will have the power to approve and renew licenses for medical marijuana facilities, revoke or suspend licenses and investigate individuals applying for licenses or complaints received about someone who is licensed.
Michael J. Loepp, a communications representative for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said the act will create a process similar to how the state regulates liquor licenses. He added that Snyder has not yet appointed members to the board and the department is still in the process of developing regulations for the new system.
“Implementation of the new act is at an early stage and the department is working to set up the new licensing program,” Loepp said. “ At this early juncture, it is often the case that answers to questions are unknown, but the department is meticulously keeping track of questions.”
Municipalities will be able to opt in and pass ordinances under the MMFLA on Dec. 15, and facilities will be able to request licenses after that date.
Patients have relied on a system where patients purchased marijuana from licensed caregivers. A caregiver can grow up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per patient, according to state law.
Patients and caregivers are matched through a state database. The MMFLA does not affect the caregiver system.
Members of the Mount Pleasant City Commission expressed an interest in opting in at a meeting held with planning commissioners on March 13. On April 10, Mayor Kathy Ling appointed members to a medical marijuana committee that comprises 7 voting members and 3 staff liaisons.
Voting members include:
- City Commissioner Nicholas Madaj
- City Commissioner Lori Gillis
- Planning Commission Chairwoman Lesley Hoenig
- Planning Commissioner William Joseph
- Three Mount Pleasant City residents
Staff liaisons include:
- Director of Public Safety Paul Lauria
- City Planner Jacob Kain
- A city attorney
City Manager Nancy Ridley a “potential benefit” of allowing medical marijuana facilities to operate in Mount Pleasant would be an increase in tax revenue. She said the new laws improve statewide rules regarding medical marijuana, and she’s waiting for the committee will help sort out the MMFLA’s impact on the community.
Municipalities can charge an annual fee of up to $5,000 on a licensee to help reimburse administrative and enforcement costs. Municipalities will be able to tax marijuana facilities like any other business
The state tax will also impose a three percent tax on dispensaries. That money would be allocated to the following:
- 30 percent to the state
- 30 percent to counties in which a marijuana facility is located, allocated in proportion to the number of marijuana facilities within the county.
- 25 percent to municipalities in which a marijuana facility is located, allocated in proportion to the number of marijuana facilities within the municipality.
- 5 percent to the Michigan commission on law enforcement standards for training local law enforcement officers.
- 5 percent to the department of state police.
Kain is in charge of drafting city ordinances. He said he isn’t worried about the work the MMFLA will require. Kain said the difficulty involves dealing with a new law on a subject the city has little experience with.
“We don’t have an institutional knowledge about these facilities,” Kain said. “We’re going to have to anticipate and project the impacts of these facilities without ever being able to truly understand what they might be.”
Lauria has been in contact with law enforcement in areas where dispensaries are prevalent, such as Metro Detroit. He said their concerns are the lack of “rhyme or reason” about where the businesses are able to operate and how they operate.
“When we put together our ordinance, we probably aren’t going to get it perfect right out of the gate,” Lauria said. “There’s going to be massaging where we address problems and issues when they come up.”
It’s been challenging for Mount Pleasant police to deal with the conflicting laws regarding marijuana. Law enforcement are “put in the middle,” Lauria said. Especially since the federal government has taken a “hard stance” but hasn’t touched states that have adopted their own laws.
Officers take an oath to uphold the laws and the Constitution of the United States, the laws of the State of Michigan and the laws and ordinances of the City of Mount Pleasant to the best of their abilities.
“How do I differentiate the part that says federal law, state law and all the rest?” Lauria said. "I would just like there to be consistency, but be it as it may, I respect the local decriminalization and laws.”
Mount Pleasant police have never “targeted” marijuana use, he said. Enforcement against marijuana use has always been “triggered” by responses to other incidents, such as nuisance parties or traffic stops.
The police chief said he isn’t worried about dispensaries leading to an influx of criminal marijuana use.
“That’s a problem now,” Lauria said. “People who think there will be an increase are almost looking for an excuse to blame medical marijuana. It was sold before the laws passed and it will be sold after.”
A major cause for concern for local law enforcement is the potential for driving under the influence of marijuana. The Mount Pleasant Police Department has a drug recognition expert who specializes in identifying drivers who are “high." Officers use DAX Goggles, which text eye movement and response when identifying impaired drivers.
Lauria said driving high is no different than driving drunk. He suspects that if more people can legally consume marijuana, more people are going to drive under the influence.
Lauria said police have been dealing with larger problems, such as the abuse of prescription drugs and the increase in heroin and methamphetamine abuse. He has his own opinion regarding medical marijuana but he isn’t inclined to comment on it.
“I look at it from the standpoint of the law,” he said. “We’re passed the debate about medicinal in Michigan so it’s really not my focus.”
WHO SAID Said there’s no doubt that some proponents of medical marijuana view it as a “backdoor” to legalization.
“I think it should be legal,” SAMRC said. “There are definitely people who think if they can get through the medical gateway they can move onto full legalization.”
In 2016, MILegalize, a state group working to legalize marijuana in Michigan, attempted to have a legalization initiative placed on the ballot. The group had to submit a petition with at least 252,523 signatures acquired within a 180-day timeframe.
A petition was submitted with more than 354,000 signatures, but the state challenged MILegalize, claiming they violated the timeframe. A federal judge agreed with the state and the measure was not placed on the ballot.
MILegalize is working to have a marijuana legalization initiative place on the 2018 ballot. In a February press release, MILegalize Board Member Jamie Lowell said support for legalization could be s high as 60 percent in 2018.
Michigan can be the place where we push the envelope on cannabis law reform and make some real progress,” Lowell said in the release. “Progress which is reflected in the proposals of every new state program after ours."