The Michigan House on Thursday advanced legislation to update the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana law by allowing for dispensaries and a variety of edible products. Medical marijuana storefronts had operated in several Michigan communities until a February ruling by the state Supreme Court empowered county prosecutors to shut them down as a “public nuisance.” Bipartisan legislation introduced by Republican Rep. Mike Callton of Nashville and approved Thursday in a 95-14 vote, would pave the way for the return of dispensaries — or “provisioning centers” — but allow local communities to prohibit them if desired.
Dispensaries would have to provide municipalities with test results ensuring that the medical marijuana they sell is free of contaminants. Edible products would have to be clearly labelled. House Bill 4271 also would prohibit on-premises cultivation or use of the drug and generally prohibit new dispensaries from opening within 1,000 feet of a school. Callton fine-tuned the bipartisan bill with input from municipalities and law enforcement officials. Those groups still have some concerns about definitions but no longer oppose the legislation, which Callton has championed as a way to improve patient access and care.
“If you get your recommendation from a doctor, instead of waiting four to six months for someone to grow plants for you — and you may be dead by then — you’ll be able to go right away to a provisioning center and get the medicine you need,” Callton told MLive on Tuesday. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who joined the lawsuit to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries and has celebrated their closure, remains concerned about any legislation that would allow similar facilities to re-open.
“As the state’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Schuette opposes any effort to legalize drugs,” said spokesperson Joy Yearout. “Communities across Michigan have already struggled with dispensaries selling drugs near schools and churches. Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, and expanding sales will undermine public safety and endanger our children.”
Yearout called the 1,000-foot radius around schools a “cold comfort” that does not assuage the attorney general’s fears. House Bill 5104, sponsored by Republican Rep. Eileen Kowall of White Lake and approved Thursday in a 100-9 vote, would update the medical marijuana law to clarify that multiple parts of the plant — including dried leaves, resin and extracts — can be eaten or otherwise used as medicine.
The Michigan Court of appeals ruled in July that “pot brownies” are not a usable form of marijuana under the medical law. The plaintiff is appealing, but the decision has clouded the legal status of various “medibles,” which many patients prefer as a healthier alternative to smoking. Kowall, speaking on the House floor before the vote, said her bill will give patients the ability to “choose the delivery method that works best for their afflictions,” referencing vaporization, tinctures, topical creams and edibles. “It also provides much needed legal clarity that patients need and deserve.”
The dispensary and edibles bills, approved on the last session day of the year, now head to the Senate. Under the Legislature’s five-day rule, they cannot be taken up until 2014. The House also approved a separate proposal to create a “pharmaceutical-grade cannabis” registry if the federal government ever reclassifies marijuana as a Schedule II drug fit for medical use. Senate Bill 660 could eventually allow the state to license large-scale growers to produce marijuana for sale in pharmacies. Creation of the registry would be dependent on federal approval, and the system would not replace the current patient-caregiver model.
Patients who wanted access to the pharmaceutical registry would have to give up their medical marijuana cards, however, meaning they could no longer grow their own plants. Sponsoring Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw Township, is a medical doctor who has stressed the importance of offering patients carefully grown and consistently dosed marijuana. Former state House Speaker Chuck Perricone, who worked on the legislation with Kahn, now works for Prairie Plant Systems. The bio-pharmaceutical company is a medical marijuana provider in Canada and would like to grow the plant in a former copper mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
A House amendment adopted Thursday would allow minors to access the pharmaceutical registry upon recommendation of two physicians. Because of that change, the bill returns to the Senate for additional consideration and possible concurrence. Update: The Senate signed off on House changes to the pharmaceutical-grade medical marijuana bill later Thursday evening in a narrow 20-18 vote. The legislation is now headed to the governor’s desk with immediate effect — but without the ability to be implemented absent federal approval.
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