Irwin and Ream Give Michigan Cannabis Law Updates
Forty friends of cannabis gathered at Bloom City Club on October 6 to hear Jeff Irwin and Chuck Ream explain and analyze the package of laws recently passed by the Michigan State legislature to regulate and license Michigan’s medical cannabis industry. The event was the monthly meeting of Women Grow-Southeast Michigan chapter.
Jeff Irwin is the pro-cannabis state representative from Ann Arbor who has introduced laws to decriminalize cannabis in Michigan. Chuck Ream is one of the leaders of MiLegalize, the grassroots group whose historic petition drive to free cannabis in Michigan is now being fought in the courts.
The laws in discussion were House Bills 4209, 4210, and 4827.
As Jeff, speaking first, explained, HB 4209 is a nearly 60-page law that sets standards for five licenses pertaining to medical cannabis: cultivating, processing, retail, testing, and transport. The licenses are granted or denied by a five-person licensing board that is appointed by the governor. Anyone applying for one of the last two, testing and transport, may apply for only one, and none of the other three. Applicants for the first three licenses may each have one, two, or three of them but no others.
Further, the department has the discretion to consider any past drug-related felonies when assessing your character. Cost for the smallest grow license will have a cap of $10,000 according to the act. The others will be determined by the board. The licenses will be assessed annually.
In addition, an excise tax of 3% will be imposed on the gross retail sales of each dispensary, but on no other licensees. According to Jeff, “The excise tax goes away when MiLegalize makes marijuana legal. The sales tax will be fought out in the courts as far as whether or not it applies to medical marijuana.”
Jeff was a co-sponsor of 4209 when it was first introduced but by the time it came to a vote it had changed and he didn’t like it: “It changes nothing about the patient-caregiver relationship except regarding transport. The MMMA now has manifest rules for caregivers transporting medicine to patients. You have to keep a log or face civil penalties.”
He continued: “The Republicans’ mission is to outlaw caregivers and replace them with licensed cultivators. The police and prosecutors welcomed the bill. Michigan has a $54 billion state budget and the department of corrections gets $2 billion of it.
“To get a license, a cultivator can’t be a caregiver,” Jeff emphasized. He noted further that cultivation facilities are only allowed in agricultural and/or industrial zones, according to each municipality.
“To get a license, you have to go through two filters: local and state. Local government must approve applications and have an ordinance in place that defines how the facility will work in their city.”
How do you get your city to come on board with your vision? “Local and state officials work for you. Talk to them. Build relationships. Buy them a cup of coffee. Explain what your idea is and how you believe it can be good for the community. Then ask them what they think. At a minimum, they should talk to you.”
He was pleased that Ann Arbor’s ordinance was good; Detroit’s, he said, was bad. Most have been anti-cannabis, he believes, but the Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Township Association are working together to put out a model ordinance that advocates will be able to introduce to their city officials.
He notes one consolation to 4209: The law doesn’t go into effect for 90 days after the governor signs it into law and at that time the state licensing department will have 360 days to set up the system.”
HB 4210, on the other hand, went into effect immediately, with Jeff’s positive vote helping state reps to surpass the required three-quarters minimum aye vote.
According to Jeff, 4210 amends an ambiguity that emerged from the failure of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, when it was passed in 2008, to specifically allow for the use and retail sale of cannabis. In State v. Carruthers, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that an edible containing THC extract from marijuana resin was not “usable marihuana” under the MMMA.
Thus, the manufacture, use, and possession of most cannabis-infused products by Michigan patients was deemed illegal, despite the clear preference of many medical cannabis patients for non-combustible forms of cannabis. HB 4210 legalizes “marihuanas-infused products,” also known as “medibles,” including concentrates, extracts, and food products and requires labels, packages, and containers for commercial food products.
HB 4827 establishes a seed-to-sale tracking system for medical cannabis grown, processed, and transferred in the State. Licensees, including dispensaries, must use certain tracking software, all of which connects to the police.
Jeff opposed 4827 and voted against it, charging that it was not necessary and that it was of no value to patients. “It becomes a tool for law enforcement to enable them to look at patterns.” Fortunately it doesn’t go into effect until 90 days after the governor signs it into law. He estimated December 20 as activation day.
“It’s Like a Police State”
Chuck Ream is a long-time cannabis advocate and long-time activist for ending the war on drugs. In nearly every grassroots effort to allow medical marijuana in a Michigan city, beginning with his home town of Ann Arbor, Chuck was the leader or a major adviser.
According to Chuck, the bills in their earlier forms were good. “Then they got bad. Then they got very bad. They were set up by the police for the police. They say nothing about patients, doctors, or caregivers. The bills give them lots of money and power. The bills will result in more people going to jail, not less. The house office of fiscal analysis says that the extreme regulatory burden of the system might kill the industry. The police have veto power over everything. It’s like a police state.”
With these laws, Chuck believes, “the current black market system and jailing will only grow.”
Referring to the five systems of licensing mandated by HB 4209, he noted that, “only for class A growers, up to 500 plants, is there a specified cost ($10,000 annually). Other licensees have no way to plan, since their cost will be whatever wasteful expense the state can dream up divided by the number of licensees.”
He applauded the work that women are doing together in the cannabis industry, including Women Grow. “Women who will work together will be suited to handle the demands of these complex regulations.” He encouraged individuals to branch out beyond growing, to create products, and to take advantage of Ann Arbor’s special notoriety by sponsoring political initiatives that will allow cannabis restaurants and nightclubs in Ann Arbor.
Chuck believes it was an arbitrary and politically motivated decision of the Secretary of State to not allow the signatures that MiLegalize gathered more than 180 days before the date when they filed them. He believes that current technology and software make the significance of the 180-day limit obsolete. Further, enforcing it makes it nearly impossible for citizens to gather the resources necessary to succeed in a grassroots ballot initiative.
But he isn’t bitter—or at least not enough to overcome his determination to build upon the experience of MiLegalize and start again. “We almost made it. With a proper ruling we could still be on the ballot but I don’t expect it.”
He encouraged others to be prepared to donate money for the effort, whose costs could reach and surpass seven figures. Already secret donors are on board with offers of matching funds.
MiLegalize is based on local control, by cities, townships, and villages. It removes the state from regulation completely except for collecting the 10% taxation. It provides a robust atmosphere to grow in. These new laws will make cannabis business very difficult.
And he’s ready to start. “Their laws won’t be operative until 2018. When ours gets on the ballot and wins, it will kill their system before it gets started. These bills are what happen if we don’t succeed. We can nip it in the bud.”