The Michigan House Judiciary Committee is to begin new hearings today for two medical-marijuana bills. Both passed the House overwhelmingly last year, then hit roadblocks in the lame-duck session of the state Senate last fall, when statewide police groups lobbied hard against them.
The bills would allow two big additions to Michigan’s medical-marijuana landscape:
■ Dispensaries, the shops that claim to sell tested medical marijuana in secure settings, so that users aren’t forced to buy whatever the local street-corner dealer is selling.
■ Medibles, the slang word for marijuana that is edible or consumed in various ways other than smoking, an option that many users say is vital to their health because they can’t or won’t smoke the drug.
On one side of the renewed debate are those who say that state voters declared marijuana was medicine in the 2008 election, passing Michigan’s medical marijuana act with 63% of the vote. On the other side are those who say that many of Michigan’s approximately 100,000 state-approved users of medical marijuana just want to get high and that dispensaries amount to legalized drug dealing.
State Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, a chiropractor from southwest Michigan, is the chief sponsor of the dispensaries bill — House Bill 4209 — and he co-wrote the medibles bill, House Bill 4210. Although dispensaries are illegal, hundreds are said to be open across the state and Callton has visited several.
“You have some very good ones, very concerned about product quality,” he said.
“And you have some others that are just slinging dope. I’ve been to a place in Flint where a circle of men were passing a joint around, and they all said they all had medical marijuana cards. That’s recreational use operating under the guise of medical use,” Callton said.
After law-enforcement objections stymied the bills last year, new versions have been tweaked to please not only the police groups but Gov. Rick Snyder as well, Callton said.
Snyder’s staff and some state lawmakers wanted the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to have a strong hand in regulating dispensaries, said Robin Schneider, legal liaison of the Detroit-based National Patients Rights Association.
After Michigan voters approved the state’s medical marijuana act, both dispensaries and medibles surfaced in every county, proliferating until court cases and law-enforcement officials clamped down, Schneider said. The state once had an estimated 400 dispensaries but now has about half that many, and they must operate in the shadows out of fear of police raids, she said.
Likewise, medible forms of cannabis also are law-enforcement targets after a state Court of Appeals ruling in 2013 said that all forms of nonsmokable marijuana were illegal — from tinctures and lotions to marijuana brownies.
“Michigan is definitely at the back of the train on both dispensaries and edibles,” said Karen O’Keefe, a lawyer in charge of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that favors legalizing cannabis.
Only three of the 23 medical-marijuana states — Hawaii, Montana and Michigan — fail to allow some form of stores for adult users, said O’Keefe, a Grosse Pointe Farms native. Of those, Hawaii is “very likely” to approve dispensaries this year, she said.
Numerous other states allow medibles, so that children with epilepsy or seniors with lung disorders can use medical marijuana without needing to smoke it, O’Keefe added.
The House Judiciary Committee hearings are to begin at 9 a.m. today at the House Office Building, 124 N. Capitol, Room 307.