Michigan is poised for change, as it has been for years. Almost seven years of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (sponsored by MPP in 2008) has brought plenty of litigation, but no legal dispensaries. That seems likely to change in 2016, one way or another.
It is possible that the Michigan legislature, which has done nothing to improve the stalemate on dispensaries and the questionable legality of anything other than “dried leaves and flowers,” may finally move forward. The dispensary and extracts bills now are joined by a seed-to-sale tracking system. That finally may overcome the objections of those coddling law enforcement, who see enforcement having to move on to other things (like violations of the new regulations). Multiple legalization petitions are afoot. One would set up a three-tiered system like the clumsy, expensive, and oligopolistic Michigan liquor control framework. It has taken years to allow brewpubs in this state. Even now, a small local brewery is prohibited from selling directly to retail outlets; everything must go through one of the few beer and wine wholesalers, who take a cut (of course). Even that, however, is not the worst part of the ballot initiative being circulated by the Michigan Cannabis Coalition. The worst part is that any violation of the law still would be a crime. Growing more plants than allowed (two flowering plants, or potentially four if the municipality allows it) would be a felony. Selling to anyone without a license would still be a felony. The proposal I favor (and which I helped draft) is sponsored by MILegalize. Aside from allowing distribution directly from cultivator to retailer, the main benefit of this legalization proposal is that it no longer criminalizes marijuana except for providing to minors or for driving under the influence. As we move from prohibition to legalization, we need to remember that much of the benefit of legalization is the concept of generally removing marijuana from the illegal market, with the huge savings of lives and money which accompany the move to put cannabis distribution into the legal market. MILegalize is the right form of legalization. It removes most criminal penalties for cannabis. Eliminating crime by design of our drug laws and treating it as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue, is a healthy change. That is the best reason to support the model put forward by MILegalize, as opposed to the three-tiered system proposed by the Michigan Cannabis Coalition. For those who need to see a direct economic benefit before considering financially supporting this initiative, don’t be shortsighted. Michigan has a population twice the size of Colorado. MILegalize has no residency requirement, no financial bars to entry, and no caps on size or number or growers, processors or retailers (that is left up to each municipality, who stand to recover 20% of the excise tax imposed at the retail level). Marijuana legalization in the face of continued criminal punishment in not nearly as sweet.
I cut my teeth as a criminal defense attorney, and have had the unfortunate opportunity to see, up close, the negative unintended consequences of a medical marijuana law which is far too restrictive and fails both in providing necessary products and access, while also failing to protect those who are intended to benefit from the law. We need to not continue to make the same mistakes in the progression toward full legalization. As a person who wants to see government work for the people, we need to recognize that the law itself is most of the problem, and leaving criminal penalties in place only perpetuates the problem. For more information on MILegalize or to make a contribution, visit www.milegalize.com