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Monday, March 18,2013

AG: More cannabis rules are coming

What’s in store for the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act? Attorney General Bill Schuette has a few ideas.

by Andy Balaskovitz
Wednesday, Aug. 10 — What does Attorney General Bill Schuette, a former Michigan Court of Appeals judge who advocated against the state medical marijuana initiative in 2008, think about as he drives to his Lansing office and perhaps passes a few dispensaries on his way?

He keeps his personal thoughts close to his chest.

“My job is to enforce the law. … Whatever the issue is, my job is to enforce the law,” Schuette said this afternoon after a press conference calling for a package of eight separate bills to fill in “swiss-cheese”-like holes in the state Medical Marihuana Act.

The proposed legislation that Schuette’s asking lawmakers to take up in the fall does not specifically seek to ban dispensaries, which Schuette said would be up to state courts. Even though Schuette maintains dispensaries are not allowed under the state act, his proposals would empower local municipalities to regulate the zoning of dispensaries as a sort of holdover until court rulings clarify whether dispensaries are allowed.

Notably, the case of the People v. McQueen before the state Court of Appeals deals with such businesses that operate under the assumption that patient-to-patient transfers are legal. An Isabella County Circuit judge said such transactions are legal. However, in Midland County, Schuette has supported the Midland County prosecutor’s efforts to close a dispensary.

Fourteen officials from law enforcement, the Legislature and the medical profession — along with two county prosecutors — joined Schuette to promote the package of bills that tackle various aspects of the Medical Marihuana Act. Republicans and Democrats stood beside Schuette in the 7th floor conference room of the downtown G. Mennen Williams building, including Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, and Rep. Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland.

State Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia, said four of the eight bills would require a supermajority of the Legislature to enact. Schuette said he expects the legislation to be taken up by the Legislature in the fall.

Schuette’s proposals would: make it a felony for several instances of falsifying information from physicians and patients; make it a felony to use someone else’s card to transfer medical marijuana; prohibit felons from being caregivers (under the act, only felons with drug-related convictions are prohibited from being caregivers); and make it a misdemeanor to fail to report a lost or stolen card within seven days. Schuette’s list of recommendations say the Medical Marihuana Act does not include criminal penalties for violating the act for presenting false information, only a denial of application.

He also proposes to “empower local communities to regulate marijuana facilities” and “avoid confusion and excessive litigation regarding insurance claims and coverage for medical marijuana users.” Schuette also wants to create a registry of enclosed locked facilities to allow for state inspections and strengthen the definition of “bona-fide physician-patient” relationships.

Schuette also proposes to align the state Motor Vehicle Code with the Medical Marihuana Act so no one could drive while under the influence of cannabis. The state Court of Appeals has just taken up a case on this issue, in which a medical marijuana patient is challenging whether he was under the influence of cannabis while driving five hours after he smoked, Michigan Public Radio reported this week.

Schuette said the state statute has been “hijacked” by “pot profiteers” and “drug dealers.” He said the “victims” of such a hijacking are children and the “public at large.” Schuette referred to “20” dispensaries on Michigan Avenue — there are actually 10 — near restaurants and churches children are exposed to. He said such businesses are “creating easy access to a gateway drug.”

As a Court of Appeals judge, Schuette was the unofficial spokesman for a coalition of law enforcment officials and prosecutors opposed to Proposition 1, now the state Medical Marihuana Act.

Schuette said the goal of the legislation is to “bring the law back into line with what people voted for,” which he said was “to help people with debilitating illnesses.” He called the combination of legislation and potential state Supreme Court rulings a “two-track” approach to do so.

Speakers took turns jabbing at the state statute, approved by 63 percent of voters in 2008, because they said it was loosely written, creating easy access to cannabis and increases in crime.

“The criminal element has moved in,” Jones said. He cited as an example the arrest of Wayne Dagit on two counts of possession with intent to deliver between five and 45 kilograms of marijuana, one count of growing between 20 and 200 marijuana plants and one count of maintaining a drug house. Dagit operated the Green Leaf Smokers Club in Williamston Township, a medical marijuana dispensary, until he was arrested on the drug charges in May 2010.

Jones also said he's working on legislation for a "saliva test" with the state police to detect people who have recently smoked while driving.


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