Michigan caregivers have provided the backbone for the medical marijuana program begun in 2008. But that could all change if three bills recently introduced in the legislature become state law, says the head of Michigan NORML.
“They seek to change the patient-caregiver relationship in Michigan, which was established in 2008 by the passage of the voter-directed initiative, or Medical Marijuana Act. Now they would change it in a number of different ways,” Rick Thompson, executive director of the cannabis advocacy group, tells The News Station.
The three bills, 5300, 5301 and 5302, would revise the state’s caregiver laws. As it stands now, caregivers, who in Michigan cultivate marijuana for patients who cannot do so on their own, are more loosely regulated than other marijuana businesses. They are allowed to serve five patients and cultivate a total of 60 plants. Under the new proposal they would be allowed only one patient, Thompson says.
“They would also give law enforcement the ability to learn all of the addresses of caregiver grows and their communities, which is sometimes referred to as a ‘treasure map for law enforcement,’” he adds. “They were forbidden from having this information in that 2008 voter-directed initiative.”
Finally, the legislation would establish a new type of specialty cannabis growers license.
“That person would still be able to accommodate five patients, but would only be able to do so in a commercial setting with local ordinance approval, Michigan state police and marijuana regulatory agency inspections and approvals as well,” Thompson explains. “That’s clearly an unworkable license type as a caregiver is not a business.”
Thompson says the legislation would take away 80% of caregivers’ ability to grow plants and properly take care of their patients.
“But you could achieve this new status if you tried real hard,” he says facetiously.
The legislation would put the new rules in place by March, although the possibility of someone achieving this specialty cannabis grower license is easily several years out.
There are about 30,000 caregivers in Michigan serving roughly 72,000 patients.
“If you take away 80% of that, that’s roughly 60,000 people who will no longer have caregiver cannabis access,” Thompson says. “Then they will come into the regulated market and start shopping in their stores. So it seems transparently obvious that this is a play to eliminate competition and use the legislature as the tool by which they accomplish it.”
There’s one other thing to remember, he adds. There are two cannabis trade associations in Michigan. “One of them, the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association (MCMA), are the people that instigated these three bills in the legislature. They’ve only got like a dozen members,” he says.
The other organization, the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association (MICIA), which has more than 300 members, is against the legislation. (When contacted, an MICIA representative said they were holding their comments for a possible legislative hearing.)
“So it’s [the changes to the law] not something that the industry itself demands,” Thompson says. “It’s something only a thin slice of the industry demands. And it’s well-financed.”
One of the arguments for the legislative changes is that caregivers in Michigan have never been required to test their cannabis before giving it to patients, which could create health issues. Thompson says it’s one of those red herrings that has no basis in reality.
“We’ve had a caregiver system here in Michigan for 12 years and millions and millions and millions of instances of cannabis use,” he says. “There’s no evidence of health concerns or health or safety risk. And, unfortunately, Michigan is notorious for having one of the most — I hate to use the term — but the most corruptible legislatures in the United States.”
When the regulated market began in Michigan, all marijuana was supplied by caregivers. “In December of 2008, they had to launch it with caregiver cannabis, and caregivers produced it intentionally for several years,” Thompson says. “Then you magically told them to shut it off. And now, you’re concerned that they didn’t shut it all off, so they make more rules. It doesn’t seem like a success pattern at all.”
The state legislature is in session, and Thompson says it’s difficult to know whether or when the bills might come up for a hearing. “I would have thought that the bills would have been heard very quickly,” he says, but that momentum may have been slowed by a rally held Sept. 15 on the steps of the capitol in Lansing. “Several hundred people showed up. It was a huge success and a lot of media was there. Caregivers were talking about what it would mean to lose their ability to help patients. It seems as if the success of that rally may have pushed back any hopes of getting a quick hearing.”
Thompson adds many people in the cannabis industry are doing something legally they did illegally before.
“Everybody’s breaking federal law right now. So when you make rules that a person cannot understand or which don’t seem to make any sense, our community will just ignore them,” he says. “And what happens then is you take common citizens and turn them into accidental criminals because you passed a bad law. That’s absolutely what would happen here.”