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Marijuana May Dominate Michigan Politics In 2016

Medical Marijuana
Chuck Coker

2016 could bring major changes to the way Michigan treats marijuana.

There are three campaigns hoping to put legalization of recreational marijuana on the November ballot. Two of those groups – who appear to be raising significant money and have been collecting signatures for months – would tax and regulate marijuana for personal use for people 21 and older.

A state elections board recently gave the go-ahead for a third group to start circulating petitions.  That campaign, Abrogate Prohibition Michigan 2016, would fully decriminalize marijuana use for any purpose for people 18 and older.

In addition to those efforts, supporters of bills to overhaul Michigan’s medical marijuana system are pushing for votes in the state Legislature.  Supporters want to create legal protections and strict regulations for marijuana dispensaries and create a new distribution system in Michigan.  The legislation is stalled in committee after heavy opposition from caregivers and patient groups. They worry the regulations would be overly burdensome, are designed to generate profits for middle men, and would drive up costs.  In addition, many criticize new taxes on medical marijuana sales proposed under the bills.  They say cannabis could become unaffordable for many patients if the proposals are signed into law.  

Senate Judiciary Committee chair state Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) says he’s still hopeful the bills will clear the Senate in 2016.  “I think if it gets on the Senate floor, the prospects are good that it’ll pass,” Jones said during a recent press conference.  “We’re hoping to make this so that child can get medicine, so that senior in the last stage of their life can get medicine immediately by going to a legal and tested dispensary.”  Jones says the regulatory model outlined in the legislation – which is similar to the way Michigan treats alcohol distribution - is designed to encourage competition.  “The biggest request I had from all the various medical marijuana groups was to make sure there’s no monopoly. And that’s what we’ve done,” said Jones.

The legislation also includes a bill that would make it legal for medical marijuana patients to use non-smokable forms of cannabis. Under current Michigan case law, patients who use products such as baked items or cannabis oils have no legal protections. That bill faces much less opposition, but would require supermajority votes in the state House and Senate to pass.

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— Jake Neher is the State Capitol Reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

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