LANSING – Confusion surrounding the legality of marijuana dispensaries and nonsmokable forms of the drug are prompting lawmakers to propose changes related to Michigan’s voter-approved law that legalized marijuana for medical use.
Bipartisan legislation introduced Thursday would allow for “provisioning centers,” businesses where patients with a state-issued medical marijuana card could buy surplus marijuana that suppliers produce for other patients.
Advocates say the bill is needed because the state Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that qualified patients and caregivers cannot transfer marijuana to another patient or anyone else, and dispensaries that facilitate such transactions can be shut down as a public nuisance. Some municipalities have let the dispensaries continue to operate while others have not.
The legislation, which supporters say would give patients safe access to marijuana, needs regular majority support from the Republican-controlled Legislature to go to the governor’s desk because it would not directly amend the 2008 marijuana law.
Another bill would authorize non-smokable marijuana such as oils, food items and pills. It requires a vote from three-quarters of the House and Senate because it would change the voter-initiated law.
“Sixty-three percent of voters wanted the use, the compassionate use, of medical marijuana for certain classes of patients. This package of bills helps to fulfill the intention of the voters,” said House Health Policy Committee Chairman Mike Callton, R-Nashville.
Michigan has 165,000 residents allowed to use marijuana to treat cancer and other illnesses and nearly 32,000 licensed caregivers.
Among those backing the legislation is Ida Chinonis of Grand Blanc, whose 6-year-old daughter Bella was born with a genetic disorder that causes seizures. She said she obtained marijuana oil as a “last resort” a month ago and has seen improvements over regular medicines.
Seizures that lasted 10 minutes now are 10 seconds, she said, and her awareness is better.
“She’s starting to engage when you ask her questions. … She’s calmer. She’s actually participating more in school as well,” said Chinonis, who traveled to Lansing on Thursday for a Capitol news conference with lawmakers, a Detroit councilman and Lansing’s police chief.
Similar bills easily won passage in the House in 2013 but died on the Senate floor in December’s lame-duck session, primarily because of concerns from law enforcement.
Callton said he intends to speak with opponents earlier this time around, saying it was a mistake before to wait to hear their concerns.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to do this if they’re against us,” he said. “I do think that everyone is starting to recognize that we need to do this. We need a rational approach to medical marijuana, and law enforcement also needs to be able to know what they have to do to be able to oversee it.”
Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said the group hopes to find middle ground with legislators after opposing the legislation last year.
Chiefs worry about letting caregivers sell up to 3 pounds of overage amounts of marijuana a month to dispensaries for distribution.
“The argument was that you need to have this medical marijuana outsourced because people can’t get their medical marijuana — that’s not true. There’s plenty of marijuana out there,” Stevenson said. “It’s not supposed to be a for-profit business.”
Both Democrats and majority Republicans are backing the new bills.
Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, said local officials would be empowered to decide if they want the provisioning centers in their communities.
Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyon, R-Alto, said the law’s ambiguity is clogging the court system and prosecutions are “wasting taxpayer money.”