Lansing — The House Judiciary Committee touched off a new effort to legalize dispensaries and edible forms of cannabis for medical marijuana patients Tuesday, sending three new bills to the House floor for consideration. 

The bills, containing tighter rules than in failed 2014 proposals and an 8-percent excise tax on gross retail income of provisioning centers, is a compromise plan designed to overcome law enforcement opposition.

A voter-approved medical marijuana law that took effect in 2008 doesn’t specifically mention dispensaries or edible marijuana products, whose legality has been clouded by Michigan Supreme Court and appeals court rulings in recent years. Lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that clarifies the law. Rep. Mike Callton, who negotiated the compromises, called his main legislation “a bill we all can live with.” Callton, R-Nashville, told the committee the 8 percent tax and a mandatory system for tracking all forms of pot — from production to consumption — are key new provisions. Those proposals drew objections from advocates for less-onerous regulations as well as from Democratic Rep. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, a committee member who tried unsuccessfully to have them removed from the bills.

Irwin argued making medical marijuana purchases too burdensome or costly would increase the chances some would be diverted illegally to non-medical users.

“It will drive people to the black market,” added Frank James, who runs a Gaylord nutrition supplement and natural health store that also offers marijuana flowers. “People who come into our dispensary need a place to go other than the streets,” James told the committee.

Ken and Alice Szymoniak, of the tiny Presque Isle County town of Millersburg, told the committee that technically illegal cannabis oil has given Alice back a normal life. Ken Syzmoniak, a car dealer, said they tried marijuana after years of desperation.

Alice, who contracted fibromyalgia while recovering from a severe 1998 vehicle crash they were in, had such intense pain that for years they were lucky to be able to even spend an hour having a meal at a restaurant, Ken Szymoniak said.

She’s now pain-free, off prescription opiates and can engage in normal activities, including jet skiing with their grandchildren, the couple said.

“It was our only way of surviving,” Ken Szymoniak said. “It absolutely changed our life. We’re starting to travel again.” He said he became a state-licensed caregiver for four medical marijuana patients to offset the cost of growing the plants he needs for his wife. “I don’t understand everything that’s in the bills,” he said, “but I support making (cannabis) oils legal.”

The proposed 8 percent excise tax would be in addition to Michigan’s 6 percent sales tax, also collected on cannabis items. Its revenues would offset regulatory and law enforcement costs involved with dispensaries and new medical marijuana products.

Provisions of the bill package also call for a state Medical Marijuana Licensing Board to oversee the new rules. There would be five kinds of state licensees — grower, processor, provisioning center, secure transporter and safety compliance facility.

Chances the bills will pass are uncertain, but more promising than a year ago.

“Too soon to say at this point, as not everyone has had a chance to review them yet,” said Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant. “But I think most people realize there are problems with the recent law that need to be fixed.”

Amber McCann, press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said the GOP majority will decide its fate in caucus discussions. “At this point there is not a push within the caucus for this issue,” she added.

Callton said the bills would need a simple majority vote to pass in each chamber because they aren’t amending the 2008 medical marijuana act.

Meanwhile, two groups are circulating petitions to initiate a new state law that would legalize marijuana for nonmedical, personal use. The measures would go on the November 2016 ballot if enough signatures are gathered and the Legislature doesn’t act on the proposals.

Pennsylvania – update on the stats of SB3

Q: What’s the status of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania?
A: A bill to allow it, SB 3, was approved 40-7 in the state Senate. The bill moved to the state House, where it was sent to the health committee. The health committee chair, state Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga, opposes the bill, and says he won’t allow a vote. Meanwhile, some House members say the bill would easily pass if given the chance. Supporters in the House are exploring ways to “unlock” the bill. Gov. Tom Wolf says he’ll sign it if it reaches his desk. Medical marijuana has strong public support. A Quinnipiac University poll in March concluded 85 percent of residents favor allowing medical marijuana. It found overwhelming support in every age, gender and partisan group.

 Q: If there’s such strong support, why is there a delay in even holding a vote?

A: Opponents including Baker argue there is a lack of research showing benefits of marijuana. Baker also believes it will be a gateway to more drug addiction.

Q: It it true there’s a lack of research?

A: It depends who you ask. It’s fair to say there is a lack of studies that meet the standards commonly used in the approval of drugs in the United States. There’s good reason for that — the U.S. government lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no medical benefit, high potential for abuse, and can’t be used safely even under a doctor’s supervision. That makes it hard to conduct marijuana research in the United States. Still, there’s widespread agreement marijuana doesn’t belong on Schedule I.  And about 20 years ago researchers discovered a system of receptors in the brain which respond to various chemicals in marijuana. (This is the endocannabinoid system.) That prompted a burst of research around the world.

Q: What exactly would SB 3 allow?

A: It would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana-derived substances to treat a dozen conditions, including cancer, epilepsy and seizures, ALS, multiple sclerosis, post traumatic stress disorder, HIV/AIDS and glaucoma. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Health could authorize additional conditions.

Q: Would children being treated for seizures be given marijuana to smoke?

A: No. Smokable forms of marijuana aren’t allowed by SB 3. Marijuana-derived medications would largely take the form of oils and liquid extracts, which could be taken in the form of droplets, or vaporized, or consumed in several other approved methods.

Q: What would prevent medical marijuana from being used by people who aren’t sick and just want to get high?

A: People under the treatment of a doctor who believes medical marijuana is appropriate for them would obtain a medical cannabis card. Growers, processors and dispensers would be licensed, and their employees would be certified. Presumably, this would allow people who possess marijuana for non-approved purposes to be prosecuted.
Q: Where would the medical marijuana come from?

A: Pennsylvania. SB 3 calls for licensing 65 growers, 65 processors and 130 dispensaries.

Q: Would medical marijuana be taxed?

A: Yes. The Pennsylvania bill calls for a six percent “surcharge” which would be paid before the medical marijuana is purchased by the patient.