medical marijuana

Marijuana in Michigan: What new pot laws mean for the state

Nov 14, 2012
miss.libertine / Creative Commons

Marijuana users across the state are claiming victory after the success of pro-pot ballot proposals in several Michigan cities.

Supporters say decriminalization of the drug in Flint, Grand Rapids, and Detroit shows that Michiganders are warming to the idea of a pot-friendly future.

But beyond symbolic value, how will these votes affect the way marijuana is managed and policed throughout the state?

Michigan Radio is venturing into the morass of overlapping local, state, and federal law to determine how the state manages weed.

We begin with a look at the new laws and how other Michigan towns have chosen to regulate marijuana.

Marijuana plants
A7nubis / Creative Commons

Voters in several Michigan cities passed proposals to ease legal restrictions on marijuana. On Tuesday people in Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids voted overwhelmingly to make small amounts of marijuana okay to possess under city law. I’m not talking about the medical stuff here; this is just regular old pot.

"Prosecuting someone for peacefully using marijuana is about as ridiculous to me as prosecuting someone for sipping a vodka martini,” Tim Beck, chair of the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, said. Beck also worked to put Michigan’s medical marijuana laws in place.

Stateside: That status of Michigan's medical marijuana law

Oct 31, 2012
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Nearly four years ago, Michigan voters approved the use of medical marijuana by 63% making Michigan one of 17 states permitting its usage.

The law removed state-level criminal penalties for using, possessing and growing marijuana by and for patients whose doctors have granted them medicinal usage of marijuana.

Throughout the past four years, however, the law has generated a considerable amount of confusion over who can grow marijuana and what its uses really are.

To assess where the law stands today, Stateside spoke with attorney Matthew Abel and Senator Rick Jones.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

No more Senate candidate debates

"It appears there will be no debate between Senator Debbie Stabenow and former Congressman Pete Hoekstra. Stabenow called off talks to schedule the debates, saying her opponent won't negotiate in good faith. Hoestra says Stabenow is afraid to debate him. Senate candidates usually hold at least two debates. One debate has traditionally been held at the Detroit Economic Club. Hoekstra says the sticking point was holding debates in a medium that lots of voters could see. Hoekstra says he wanted debates on major TV networks," Tracy Samilton reports.

Meningitis cases continue to rise in Michigan

"There’s been a big jump in the number of people in Michigan affected by that national fungal meningitis outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control says 39 people in Michigan have contracted fungal meningitis from tainted steroid injections. Just Wednesday there were only 28 confirmed cases in Michigan. Three Michigan women have died since receiving the injections which were intended to treat back pain," Steve Carmody reports.

Medical Marijuana discussed in Michigan Supreme Court

"The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether the state’s medical marijuana law allows dispensaries and growing cooperatives. The court heard arguments in two medical marijuana cases today Thursday. Prosecutors say patients have to either grow their own, or get it from a licensed caregiver. Prosecutors say patients have to either grow their own, or get it from a licensed caregiver. The operators of a marijuana dispensary are challenging the county’s decision to shut down their operation. A man who ran a growing cooperative is also trying to fend off a charge that he exceeded the 12-plant limit in the law. The court is expected to rule in coming months. In the meantime, the Legislature is also looking at adding some definition to the medical marijuana law that was approved by voters in 2008," Rick Pluta reports.

user elioja / Flickr

The future of medical marijuana dispensaries and growing cooperatives are on the line with two cases before the Michigan Supreme Court. The court heard arguments on those cases Thursday.

Isabella County Prosecutor Risa Scully said the medical marijuana act does not allow dispensaries where patients can share marijuana with each other.

“The act clearly delineates two methods in which a qualified patient may obtain their marijuana—they may grow it themselves or they may designate a caregiver to grow it for them,” Scully said.

The Michigan Supreme Court opens its 2012 session this week.
Subterranean / Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court formally opens its 2012 session this week.

Its first cases deal with no-fault insurance benefits, Michigan’s open meetings law, and medical marijuana.      

The first arguments of the court’s session will be on the case of a woman who wants her auto no-fault coverage to pay for her treatments for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

She was diagnosed after witnessing her son’s death in a motorcycle accident. She was following him in her car when he was struck by another vehicle.

Rina Miller talks with Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry this week about the ballot proposals that were approved, the results of the special primary in Michigan's 11th congressional district and what happens now, and the medical marijuana debate in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Three ballot proposals approved

Michigan voters will decide on six ballot proposals in November. The state Supreme Court rejected challenges to three out of four proposed amendments yesterday. The court approved amendments to guarantee collective bargaining rights, to require two-thirds super-majority votes in the Legislature to increase taxes, and statewide votes for any future international bridges to Canada. The proposal to authorize eight more casinos in the state was not approved.

Bentivolio wins primary in 11th disctrict

Former teacher Kerry Bentivolio won the special primary election in Michigan’s eleventh district. Bentivolio was one of four Republicans vying to complete the remainder of Thaddeus McCotter’s term in Congress. He'll face Democrat David Curson in the special general election to decide who serve the remaining few weeks in McCotter’s term. McCotter resigned in July after it was discovered that petition signatures were forged or copied in at least two of his campaigns.

Medical marijuana debate in Wyoming, Mich.

The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming is challenging a judge’s ruling that overturned its ban on medical marijuana. The Wyoming City Manager says city council worries that medical marijuana will increase crime and cause confusion for police. Michigan’s Court of Appeals struck down Wyoming’s medical marijuana ban last month. The court says any prosecution under federal laws would be up to the federal government, not local governments.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming will appeal a judge’s ruling that overturned its ban of medical marijuana. Wyoming is one of a handful of Michigan cities with an outright medical marijuanna ban. Others have instituted zoning restrictions.

Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt says city council worries that medical marijuana will increase crime and cause confusion for police.

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City of Wyoming cannot ban medical marijuana

Michigan’s Court of Appeals has struck down a city ordinance banning medical marijuana. The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming is one of a few local governments that has banned medical marijuana – citing federal drug laws. A Wyoming resident and medical marijuana patient sued the city. Yesterday the Court of Appeals ruled cities cannot ban medical marijuana because state law allows it. The judges say any prosecution under federal laws would be up to the federal government, not local governments. A similar case against the City of Birmingham in metro Detroit is pending.

Search for Asian carp in Lake Erie

Scientists have begun searching two of western Lake Erie's bays and tributary rivers for signs of dreaded Asian carp. Officials announced last month that DNA from bighead and silver carp had been detected in Lake Erie water samples taken a year ago. They said the six positive hits among more than 400 samples they examined didn't necessarily mean the invasive fish have established a population in the lake. Natural resource departments in Michigan and Ohio are teaming with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take a closer look. Crews are collecting water this week in the Sandusky River and Bay and the Maumee River and Bay, in the same areas where the positive samples were taken in 2011. Next week, they will use electroshocking and netting to catch fish.

Juvenile lifers

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says hundreds of juveniles sentenced to life without parole for murder or complicity in a murder should not get re-sentencing hearings. Schuette says a U-S Supreme Court ruling that struck down Michigan’s mandatory life without parole law for juveniles should only apply to future cases. He has asked the state Supreme Court to limit the scope of the federal decision.
Deborah LaBelle is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. She says if Schuette prevails, the effect would be catastrophic on people sent to prison as juveniles who were not given a fair shake by the system. Schuette says it’s not fair that murder victims’ families would have to return to court for re-sentencing hearings after they were assured their cases were over. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Court of Appeals has struck down a city ordinance banning medical marijuana. Supporters of the voter approved medical marijuana law are calling it a huge victory.

The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming is one of several Michigan cities or townships that have restricted the medical marijuana act voters passed in 2008.

Wyoming resident and medical marijuana patient John Ter Beek sued the city in 2010. Shortly after the ACLU joined the case.

eggrole / flickr

An opinion today by the state Supreme Court adds some definition to Michigan’s 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law.

The court made a series of rulings on what’s allowed for defendants who’ve been  charged with drug crimes and don’t have a state- issued medical marijuana card. The court says a doctor’s diagnosis is a defense for someone charged with possessing marijuana without a medical marijuana card.

But the Supreme Court says there are limits. The court says there’s no going to a doctor after being busted for a diagnosis that a patient would benefit from medical marijuana. And a diagnosis has to have been made after voters approved the law.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan has issued medical marijuana cards covering 44 children. Most are teenagers, but three of them are under 10 years old.

Eggrole / Flickr

In this week's edition of It's Just Politics, Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network and I take on the politics of pot. It's a hazy situation and an issue that's getting chronic attention in the state (okay, okay, enough with the drug innuendo).

Where things stand

In 2008 voters – by a pretty large margin - voted to make medical marijuana legal in the state. But, the law is confusing. Not only is there the fact that it’s still illegal under federal law, there are also questions about if and how dispensaries should be regulated; the medical conditions for which  medical marijuana should be prescribed; the size and location of marijuana plants that one is allowed to grow... I could go on and on.

Pluta: Exactly… there are more questions than answers when it comes to this law because it is so vague. So, this week, we’ve seen some measures to add clarity to the law. But, because this law was a voter-initiated and approved law, to  change it, any measure has to have a three fourths majority in both the state House and Senate. Something that’s not in this package is dispensaries – that’s in court right now, but some lawmakers don’t want to wait for a state Supreme Court ruling. They say dispensaries could cure some problems – especially what to do when someone who is legally growing marijuana has more weed than they can use. 

Clark: So, just this week state Representative Mike Callton introduced a measure to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries. But, Callton says he was against the medical marijuana law that passed in 2008.

Collton: “…I think what voters passed is nuts, just crazy insane.”

Pluta: So, why is he introducing this then?

Clark: That is, indeed the question.

Pluta: Callton and some others say it would be better for dispensaries to buy up, or otherwise take possession of, surplus pot instead of having it sold illegally on the street. There’s a division, though. Some Republicans basically consider dispensaries legalized dope dens.

Clark: So, that’s a debate that will take place probably this summer on dispensaries. What’s moving right now would require in-person doctor’s visits to get a medical marijuana card, a picture I.D., and police access to medical marijuana records.

Pluta: Medical marijuana advocates say some of this goes too far. In a couple of instances, it reverses what voters approved in the medical marijuana law and, so, they’re trying again. There is a petition drive in the field to put a question on the ballot to make Michigan a legalized marijuana state.  We’ll see if they can get enough signatures.

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The Michigan House passed a package of bills aimed at clarifying the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law.

The four bills passed by the House now go to the Michigan Senate.

The Detroit Free Press reports the bills passed with support from both Republicans and Democrats:

The bills were adopted on broad, bi-partisan votes, clearing the three-fourths majority hurdle needed to amend the law approved by Michigan voters in 2008. Similar majorities will be needed for approval in the state Senate, however, before the changes would become effective.

MLive reports protestors have demonstrated at the Capitol in Lansing, arguing the package of bills infringe on patients' rights.

"You are never going to appease everyone," said Rep. Phil Cavanagh, D-Redford Township. "That’s why I have confidence that everybody is a little disappointed in the language in the four bills, yet I believe it’s a good compromise and I believe that these clarify the voters intent the best we could."

Here are links to the four bills passed by the Michigan House of Representatives today:

Eggrole / Flickr

A Republican state lawmaker has proposed a measure to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries. Right now, the future of dispensaries is waiting on a ruling from the state Supreme Court.

State Representative Mike Callton says he did not support the medical marijuana law adopted by voters in 2008.

“I think what voters passed is nuts, just crazy insane," Callton says. He says the voter-approved law has too many loopholes that create questions and problems. “Obviously, 62 percent of voters, whatever, wanted some form of compassionate care for people, but I think the people who put that referendum together really did a disservice to the people of this state.

Callton wants to legalize dispensaries – and he wants to allow them to buy growers’ surplus marijuana and keep it off the black market.  The bill would ban felons from running dispensaries; and would allow communities to license the facilities and decide where they could be located.

If everyone who is trying to get a referendum on something on the ballot this fall succeeds, every conscientious person may end up having to spend half an hour in the voting booth in November.

That’s a  bit of an exaggeration, but not much. There is a campaign to get a ballot referendum on the state’s emergency manager law -- and another to recall the governor himself.

The unions are collecting signatures to try to get a constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining for workers in both the public and private sectors.

Prarie Plant Systems

A Canadian company specializing in plant-based pharmaceuticals wants to turn an old copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula into a large-scale medical marijuana farm.

Paul Egan from the Detroit Free Press reports that Prairie Plant Systems (PPS), along with their stateside subsidiary SubTerra, purchased the White Pine Mine in 2003 and began using it for other types of plant-based research. But the company hopes to start using the facility to produce pot and tap into Michigan's market of 131,000 medical marijuana users.

According to Egan, PPS already operates a marijuana growing facility in Canada and has a lucrative contract to supply medical pot to the Canadian government. But while Michigan voters have approved medical marijuana use, the project is still a long way from becoming a reality.

Egan writes:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder would all have to sign off, and in the case of the first two agencies, reverse direction on policy. Federal agencies consider marijuana illegal. DEA agents have not cracked down on small operations to supply licensed patients but almost certainly would view SubTerra as a major bust opportunity.

Legal hurdles aside, why use a mine to grow an underground pot crop?

Egan spoke to Brent Zettl, president and CEO of PPS:

Growing marijuana hundreds of feet underground - the same way the company started its Canadian operations in 2001 - provides security, constant temperature, controlled light and humidity, and protects the plants from bugs and diseases, eliminating the need for harmful pesticides and herbicides, Zettl said. He said any medical marijuana sold in Michigan should be subject to the same regular and rigorous testing as is found in Canada.

However, according to Egan, PPS's regulated growing techniques have caused some Canadian users to complain about the quality and taste of the company's product.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

The state of Michigan has ordered a new printer that will allow it to produce 4,000 medical marijuana cards a day.

Rae Ramsdell, who oversees the program, says 40,000 people who don't have cards have been given a tamper-proof letter to show they're qualified to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

More than 131,000 people have been approved for marijuana. Thousands more serve as caregivers, who are allowed to grow marijuana for up to five people.

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Michigan’s medical marijuana law is the focus of ongoing discussions at the state Capitol this week.

Lawmakers are considering proposals that would add regulations to how users can grow and store medical marijuana, and could change how police officers gather information about medical marijuana ID holders.

State Representative John Walsh (R- Livonia) chairs the House committee discussing the medical marijuana proposals.

He said he knows not everyone will be happy with the measures, but he says it’s not his intention to dramatically alter the medical marijuana law as it was approved by voters.

“We’ve worked hard to be as open as possible, and to prove to the skeptics that we’re open minded,” said Walsh.

Supporters of medical marijuana say lawmakers are “nipping away at the edges” of the medical marijuana law by considering the changes. And they say they are particularly concerned with a proposal in the state Senate that would eliminate glaucoma as a medical condition that is treatable with marijuana.

Walsh says medical marijuana users don’t need to be concerned about the proposed changes.

"We’re not interested...in doing away with the law, or undoing what voters asked for when they passed it, and I think we made that very very clear, to the point that when I left the room a number of medical marijuana came up and said, ‘Wow, we thought you were out to crush the whole movement, and now we understand you’re open to different things,’” said Walsh.

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