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Wednesday, July 23,2014

Dispensary framework

Michigan moves toward the return of medical marijuana dispensaries — this time under much stricter regulation

by Andy Balaskovitz
For Robin Schneider, House Bill 4271 has been three years in the making.

The legislation — approved overwhelmingly by the state House in December and unanimously by a Senate committee last week — would allow local municipalities to regulate, or ban, medical marijuana “provisioning centers” if they choose.

In an atmosphere with overtones of the wild West, dispensaries once flourished in Lansing, which had more than 40 that were just starting to operate under newly passed city regulations. A 2012 state Supreme Court ruling effectively shut many of them down, with a few staying open while tolerant officials effectively have looked the other way.

Schneider said he had an epiphany about three years ago. “One of my favorite county officials told us that if we wanted to be able to buy medical marijuana in stores, we’re going to have to change the law because it did not allow for dispensaries,” Schneider, legislative liaison for the National Patients Rights Association, said last week, declining to name the official. “That was the best advice anyone ever gave us. I literally left that meeting and said, ‘That’s what we’re going to do.’” Schneider said advocates have met with state legislators over 100 times to drum up support for the bill. Her group took Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, to a dispensary in Detroit. Afterward, he reportedly said, “What they’ve done there is incredible.” Initially skeptical of the legislation, Richardville, who could not be reached has reportedly said that he expects the full Senate to vote on the bill in September. He’d like some changes to the present form, but supporters are not concerned that it would substantively change the bill.

And despite some who say the legislation could lead to another flurry of businesses, Schneider doesn’t see it that way.

“When I see the media portraying this as all of the dispensaries coming back, it really bothers me,” she said. “That’s not what’s about to happen at all. In fact, it will be much more difficult for business owners to operate once the bill passes.

“It requires monitoring; licensing and administration will fall on local and countywide units of government, according to bill language. A Senate fiscal analysis said it could lead to increased costs for local enforcement, which could be covered by revenue from fees.

The bill allows licensed provisioning centers to “purchase, receive, sell or transfer” medical marijuana to or from registered qualified patients, caregivers or other provisioning centers. Patients registered in another state would also be allowed to purchase marijuana at a provisioning center. Entities in compliance with the new rules “could continue to operate as a provisioning center,” the bill says. They would have to be at least 1,000 feet away from schools, could not share office space with a physician and could not allow on-site consumption. The bill also prohibits businesses from advertising with the image of a pot leaf or joint, “or depict favorably or promote nonmedical, social use of marihuana in the advertisement.”

Provisioning centers would have to maintain records that can be inspected by municipal officials. The bill also establishes testing and labeling standards.

Testing for mold, mildew, fungi and pesticides is to be done at licensed “safety compliance facilities.”

Violating most of the provisions of the bill would be state civil infractions, though violating rules related to transporting medical marijuana could result in a misdemeanor.

The Michigan Municipal League has remained neutral on the legislation.

“We appreciate the clarity provided and inclusion of language allowing local officials to make decisions that are best suited for their municipal residents,” Nikki Brown, legislative associate for the league, said in an email.

Tim Jenkins, general manager of Star Buds in Lansing — a dispensary in operation for nearly five years — doesn’t anticipate much changing at his business if the bill is passed. “We’ve already been in compliance with everything they want in the bill,” he said.

Jenkins added that Star Buds is interested in opening a testing facility but is waiting for a final bill version to pass. But, he said, “I don’t know” about the mandatory testing portion of it.

“There’s no mystery in the medical community on who does and does not have good quality meds,” he said. “It’s very much a self-regulating industry. Make no mistake about it: The semi-legal status (of dispensaries) has driven the quality and the safety of the medicine through the roof. I don’t think anyone can argue that, even if they are completely opposed to marijuana.”

While Richardville has said he wants to see the bill amended, Republican state Rep. Mike Callton, the bill’s sponsor, doesn’t expect substantive changes. He said there could be further discussion over labeling and testing requirements as well as possibly more stringent localcontrol options. Any Senate changes to Callton’s bill would require House approval.

Schneider said law enforcement representatives expressed concern during the committee process over banking and potentially large cash transactions with no place for the money to go. She argues that that issue is playing out more in Washington and Colorado, which have legalized the recreational use of cannabis, and doesn’t anticipate it being a problem here.

After three years of working on the legislation, Schneider still says time is of the essence.

“The things we really regret to see are marijuana patients, many of whom are disabled, trying to get medication and end up getting in a police encounter that may involve a SWAT team or a raid.

“This process has been quite a long and emotional process for me,” Schneider added. “I’ve lost several friends who were medical marijuana patients in the Lansing area who died from both cancer and AIDS. Watching them struggle to gain access to their medicine, it was a disservice to them to not have easy access to medicine that was helping them so much. We’re very passionate. Our friends are dying — literally.”

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