Delaware House panel approves marijuana legalization bill

DOVER, Del. – (AP) – A bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Delaware has cleared its first legislative hurdle.

The legislation, which was released Wednesday by a House committee and now goes to the full House for a vote, regulates and taxes marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.

The bill doesn’t allow people to grow their own marijuana but allows adults over age 21 to legally possess less than an ounce of marijuana for personal use.

The legislation would create a commission to regulate, license and tax the marijuana industry, allowing licenses for up to 40 retail stores.

Consumers would pay an excise tax of $50 an ounce, while businesses would pay an application fee of $5,000 and a $10,000 licensing fee every two years.

Michigan Medical Marijuana rules, fees, set to change despite concerns

LANSING, MI — Michigan is moving forward with new rules for its medical marijuana program despite concerns voiced by some lawmakers and patient advocates.

Under the pending rule change, the most significant revision of its kind since initial implementation of the 2008 voter-approved law, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs would would reduce two-year registration fees for most patients from $100 to $60.

But the new rules, set to take effect January 15, drew criticism during public hearings because LARA would also eliminate a reduced fee rate for residents who qualify for supplemental Social Security benefits or full Medicaid.

Some low-income patients could actually see registration fees increase from $25 to $60 this year, making it potentially more difficult for them to access the drug.

Overall, the revised structure would “reduce the registration fees for approximately 88 percent of applicants,” LARA spokesperson Jeannie Vogel said in an email.

She also noted that caregivers seeking certification to grow plants will also pay a $25 fee for their own background checks “instead of patients continuing to cover the cost to verify the caregivers eligibility.”

The proposed rules were met with opposition during an October hearing before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, where lawmakers raised various concerns beyond the fee structure and suggested that LARA make changes to the proposal.

Term-limited Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, questioned a requirement that petitioners must submit a peer-reviewed study when asking the Medical Marijuana Review Panel to consider adding a new condition to the program, noting that federal laws generally discourage university-funded research.

Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, criticized LARA plans to require online applications without providing an offline method for patients lacking Internet access.

“If the person can’t file the darn thing unless they go out and buy a computer, why are you saying to them they can’t register?” said Pappageorge, R-Troy, who was term limited as well and will not return in 2015.

JCAR did not sign off on the new rules and refused to grant a waiver of session days allowing for quicker implementation, a move that appeared to spell trouble for the medical marijuana program proposal.

But the panel does not actually have “approval” rights under the state Administrative Procedures Act, according to Vogel, and JCAR did not file a notice of objection within 15 days of receiving the rules package. “Hence, the rules may be filed and go into effect.”

Rick Thompson, a medical marijuana activist and and former editor of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine, said it was “disingenuous” for LARA to move forward with the rules without making any changes following the JCAR hearing.

“I think anytime you make a change to administrative rules where you ignore the input provided by the public and lawmakers, there’s a concern,” he said. “None of those concerns were heard. All of the issues raised remain in the new policy, and patients are not benefiting.”

The rules would allow Michigan to become the first state in the country to adopt a mandatory online registration process, according to Thompson.

He noted the logic of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is adopting online filing but will not abandon paper entirely because, as Chief Justice Justice John Roberts put it, “courts cannot decide to serve only the most technically capable or well-equipped segments of the public.”

The pending medical marijuana rules, available for review on the state’s website, will not immediately require online registration but will give the state that option moving forward.

“Mandatory online registration is being considered, but a final decision hasn’t been made,” Vogel said.

LARA processed 92,652 new medical marijuana applications in fiscal year 2014, according to a recent report to the Legislature required under the law. Of those, it approved 71,336 applications and denied 21,316.

Another 24,329 individuals filed renewal applications. The department approved 20,562 of those and denied 3,767.

Total applications were down from fiscal year 2013, which was expected after the state Legislature moved to make registry cards valid for two years instead of one.

Application fees generated $8.9 million between October 2013 and September 2014, down from a record $10.9 million the previous year. Despite fewer applications the cost of administering the program jumped from $4 million to $5.8 million, according to LARA, but processing speeds increased.

Only .45 percent of applications were not approved or denied within 15 business days, according to the report, down from 21.5 percent the previous year. About 1.6 percent of renewals exceeded the processing deadline, compared to 19.9 percent in fiscal year 2013.

The average processing time for initial applications was 9.1 business days in fiscal year 2014, while the average time for renewals was 9.6 days.

Drama Brewing around medical marijuana bills in final days of ‘lame duck’ session

LANSING — With a little less than 48 hours remaining in the legislative session, Michigan law enforcement and public health officials expressed concern about two medical marijuana bills they say are being rushed through the Legislature.

In a Wednesday morning press briefing, the executive directors of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Michigan Sheriff’s Association and Michigan Association for Local Public Health urged Michigan senators not to pass House Bills 5104 and 4271.

The bills would allow for the return of regulated dispensaries and allow registered patients to use edibles. Parts of the bills would also allow medical marijuana cardholders to sell up to 50 ounces of excess product, something that concerned Robert Stevenson, head of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

“We’re creating an incentive for people to get a medical marijuana card and become involved in drug distribution,” Stevenson said.

The bills passed the Michigan House of Representatives back in December 2013 and have been sitting in the Michigan Senate for about a year. Stevenson, along with Terrence Jungel, head of the sheriff’s association, and Meghan Swain, head of the association for local public health, urged lawmakers to leave them be.

However, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville has been working on potential modifications to the legislation and believes both bills could still end up on Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk by the end of the year.

“We’re gonna try,” Richardville told reporters Wednesday. “We’ve got about 48 hours, and that’s more than enough time.”

When told the governor’s office didn’t believe there is enough time to finish work on the bills this year, Richardville said, “If we send him something, he’ll have to react to it. We’ve outperformed their expectations before.”

Richardville, who said that Michigan State Police have been helpful during discussions, said he’s trying to “walk that tightrope” between law enforcement needs and legitimate patient access to medical marijuana.

“Some of these people really do need this kind of medication,” he said.

The law enforcement officials who gathered Wednesday morning said they had not been consulted about the medical marijuana bills.

“We’ve not been invited to the table to talk about them,” Stevenson said.

Jungel, a retired sheriff from Ionia County, said the bills haven’t been vetted enough and complained lawmakers are trying to rush them through the Legislature in the lame-duck session.

“It’s the equivalent of Obamacare in that it’s not being betted adequately before implementation,” he said.

Swain said she was concerned with the lack of regulation regarding the edibles portions of the legislation. Edibles are foods baked with butter that’s been infused with THC, the active intoxicating chemical in marijuana.

She said it’s not clear how edibles will be regulated or who will regulate the bakeries where the edibles are made. Swain hoped the bills would be pushed into the next legislative session for more discussion and more input from local health departments.

“There are a lot of moving pieces and parts of this that have not been addressed in this legislation,” she said.

The law enforcement officials seemed mostly concerned with the provision in the bill that would allow people with medical marijuana cards to sell their excess supply.

Stevenson compared the provision with a person who is prescribed Oxycontinin being allowed to take three pills and sell the rest of the bottle to someone else. He said he’s also concerned about the bills not providing a way for law enforcement to track those sales.

“There’s no way we can track where the medical marijuana is going to, who it’s coming from and where it’s ultimately going,” he said.

Congress Hands A Mixed Bag to Marijuana Movement

The year-end spending bill gives momentum to the marijuana movement, plus a painful setback

For the marijuana legalization movement, 2014 ends the way it began: with legal changes that showcase the movement’s momentum alongside its problems.

Tucked into the 1,603-page year-end spending bill Congress released Tuesday night were a pair of provisions that affect proponents of cannabis reform. Together they form a metaphor for the politics of legal cannabis—an issue that made major bipartisan strides this year, but whose progress is hampered by a tangle of local, state and federal statutes that have sown confusion and produced contradictory justice.

First the good news for reformers: the proposed budget would prohibit law enforcement officials from using federal funds to prosecute patients or legal dispensaries in the 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that passed some form of medical-marijuana legalization. The provision was crafted by a bipartisan group of representatives and passed the Republican-controlled House in May for the first time in seven tries. If passed into law, it would mark a milestone for the movement, restricting raids against dispensaries and inoculating patients from being punished for an activity that is legal where they live but in violation of federal law.

“The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana, and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana to some degree,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said in a statement to TIME. The California Republican’s work on the issue reflects the strange coalition that has sprung up to support cannabis reform as the GOP’s libertarian wing gains steam and voters’ views evolve.

At the same time, the House chose to overrule Washington, D.C., on the issue. Last month voters in the District chose to liberalize its marijuana laws, passing an initiative that legalized the possession, consumption and cultivation of recreational marijuana. The move, which was supported by about 70% of the capital’s voters, paved the way for D.C. to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington State by establishing a tax-and-regulatory structure for cannabis sales in 2015.


Five Michigan cities; how and when they decriminalized marijuana possession

On November 4, voters in five Michigan cities voted to decriminalize marijuana possession.

Huntington Woods
Mount Pleasant
Port Huron

These are the most recent cities to do so. But decriminalizing a federally illegal substance is complex. These laws leave a lot up to the interpretation of local law enforcement officials.

Decriminalizing marijuana began back in 1972 in Ann Arbor, and has really picked up steam over the last few years. Here’s an overview of the cities that have decriminalized marijuana in Michigan, when they did so, and what it means for residents and law enforcement.

Ann Arbor, 1972

Starting in 1972, possession of two ounces or less of marijuana would yield a $5 ticket. The law came about in response to the arrest of poet and activist John Sinclair, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling two joints to undercover police officers.

Today, the ticket is $25, and no specific amount of weed is listed in the city charter.

For a more in-depth recounting of Ann Arbor’s history, read this post by Michigan Radio’s Mark Brush.

Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, 2012

Detroit’s proposal M exempts adults 21 years or older from criminal prosecution for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

Flint’s policy is similar to Detroit’s, but for citizens 19 years or older. Flint police, however, were very vocal about the vote not influencing the way that police officers carried out their jobs.

Grand Rapids voters approved a law that mirrors Ann Arbor’s — possession of marijuana is a civil infraction, similar to receiving a parking ticket.

That vote is being challenged by the Kent County prosecutor’s office in court. The Michigan Court of Appeals will hear arguments on the case on November 14.

The prosecutor’s office says the charter amendment conflicts with state law and prevents prosecutors from doing their job prosecuting criminal offenses, which includes drug cases. The city is defending the amendment.

Lansing, Jackson, Ferndale, 2013

Voters in Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale all passed local laws decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in November of 2013.

Hazel Park, Oak Park, August 2014

Both Hazel Park and Oak Park voted to decriminalize less than one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older who are on private property.

Berkley, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Saginaw, Mount Pleasant, Port Huron, November 2014

In the Metro Detroit communities of Berkley and Huntington Woods, voters lifted local bans on possession of marijuana for individuals 21 years or older on private property.

Pleasant Ridge voted to make marijuana a low priority for city police officers.

And Saginaw voters put a new section in the city’s charter that prevents elected officials from placing further restrictions on marijuana use for people 21 and up who are on private property. According to MLive:

Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel said deputies will stop citing people with minor marijuana violations. However, interim Saginaw police Chief Robert Ruth and Saginaw County Prosecutor John McColgan both said they did not plan on having their respective departments change how they do their jobs.

Mount Pleasant voted that nothing in the city’s charter would punish marijuana possession of less than an ounce, which according to the city’s public information officer, won’t result in much of a change because they already do not target marijuana use.

Port Huron narrowly passed a similar ordinance to Berkley and Huntington Woods.

But what does it mean?

These local laws all conflict with state and federal laws that deem marijuana use illegal. The laws are, however, symbolic of the public’s increasing tolerance of marijuana use and possession.

In an interview with Michigan Radio’s Steve Carmody, Jeff Hank, who headed up Lansing’s pro-marijuana campaign, said, “It sends a message not only to our local politicians, but politicians at the state level that it’s time to do something.”

We ran this list by the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington D.C. and they agreed that it looks complete. If you think we missed a city, let us know!

City of Mt. Pleasant votes to decriminalize marijuana – Michigan

City of Mt. Pleasant votes to decriminalize marijuana

By Randi Shaffer, The Morning Sun

Mt. Pleasant residents have overwhelmingly voted in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.
“This is a significant statement in Michigan politics,” Ian Elliott said.

Elliott runs Student Advocates for Medical and Responsible Use of Cannabis at Central Michigan University, and works as a liaison between the organization and the Coalition for a Safer Mt. Pleasant.

Elliott said that because a medical marijuana act had passed within both Isabella County and the city in 2008, he kind of figured the ballot proposal “had a good chance.”

“I was surprised at how high some of the precincts went,” he said. “Seeing 70 percent across the board was fantastic.”

Elliott said it was likely that a high percentage of those precinct voters were Central Michigan University students.

Elliott said that, in talking with those who spent time at the polls Tuesday, general observations indicated there was a high amount of younger voters.

“We definitely feel that the marijuana proposal had a part in it,” he said.
With a vote of 2,705 to 1,639, city residents voted Tuesday to amend the city ordinance so that nothing in the city’s code would apply to the use, possession or transfer of “small amounts” of marijuana on private property by those 21 and over.

Mt. Pleasant’s ordinance defines “small amounts” as less than one ounce.

Michigan—–Medical pot users can get unemployment

By Bill Laitner

In a breakthrough decision for those who say marijuana is medicine and not a dangerous drug, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Friday that workers who are state-approved users of medical marijuana should get unemployment compensation if fired solely for testing positive for drugs.

“It’s a very favorable decision for the civil rights of employees in Michigan,” said Matt Abel, a Detroit lawyer and senior partner of Cannabis Counsel, a law firm that focuses on marijuana cases.

But Rich Studley, president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said the ruling — and the use of medical marijuana in general — present “a real dilemma” for employers.

“There’s a serious question of workplace safety when people may use medical marijuana before they come to work” and then operate machinery or do other tasks that could endanger others, Studley said.

He said he hoped the ruling would be appealed. The Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief in the case in opposition to allowing jobless benefits to medical-pot users.

Michigan has had numerous cases of workers who, after receiving years of good performance evaluations, were terminated when they failed on-the-job drug tests because of their medical marijuana use, Abel said.

“This decision is another acknowledgment that medical-marijuana users’ rights have been unfairly infringed.
“They still can be fired for medical-marijuana use — even off the job, which we think is wrong. But now, at least they can’t be barred from unemployment benefits for that reason alone,” said Abel, who also is the executive director of Michigan NORML, the state’s chapter of a nationwide group that favors legalizing the drug.

Friday’s decision applies only to Michiganders who are state-registered users of the drug. The decision affirmed lower court decisions that the state’s medical marijuana law preempted its unemployment law.

A three-judge Appeals Court panel found that three state courts rightly reversed a decision by the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission to deny three workers their compensation after they were fired by their employers for testing positive for marijuana.

The decision said that a provision of Michigan’s medical marijuana act, passed by voters in 2008, prohibits penalties for those who use medical marijuana legally.

The decision encompassed separate cases from across the state in which three employees had been fired from their jobs after allegedly violating their employers’ worksite policies by testing positive for marijuana. Each possessed a state-issued medical marijuana card, demonstrating that a medical doctor had approved their use of the drug to treat a health condition.

Administrative law judges in each case had ruled in favor of forklift operator Rick Braska, CT technician Jenine Kemp and furniture-repair technician Stephen Kudzia.

“This is not the ultimate victory but it’s a big step in the right direction,” said medical-marijuana user Steven Greene, 47, of Lyon Township.

“Right now, marijuana is still classified with the federal government as a Schedule I dangerous drug, the same as heroin, which is so destructive to people’s health. That’s keeping a lot of society from accepting it and keeping a lot of employers from accepting it,” said Greene, a candidate for trustee in Lyon Township.