HB 4271 and 5104: A national view and a Senate preview
17 Dec, 2013
A national expert from MPP discusses Provisioning Centers, edibles, the successful House votes and national attitudes about controlled substances
“As a criminal defense attorney, I am thinking, man, marijuana is really not going to be illegal that much longer.”- attorney John Targowski
by Rick Thompson
FLINT- The subject of medical marijuana bills and the Michigan legislature dominated the conversation on last week’s episode of the state’s premiere weekly cannabis-based Internet talk radio program- Planet Green Trees (PGT). Special guest Chris Lindsey from the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) discussed the nature of the bills, the magnitude of the votes in the House- and what may lie ahead for the pair of bills as they make their journey through the Senate.
HB 4271 is called The Provisioning Centers Act, and HB 5104 is commonly referred to as The Concentrates Bill. Both bills enjoyed bipartisan sponsorship and both received huge support form Democrats and Republicans alike during Thursday’s House vote. 5104 passed with 100 in favor to 9 opposed, and 4271 received a 95 – 14 authorization.
Lindsey was asked by fellow PGT guest Robin Schneider about the voting, and how typical these House victories are.
“The (votes) are usually razor thin. That’s been my experience,” Lindsey offered. “To have 100 – 9, come on, that’s amazing… Who can’t avoid noticing that kind of numbers? You crushed it.”
Schneider is Legislative Chairperson for the National Patients Rights Association; she and lobbyist Kevin McKinney are paid players in the Lansing effort to advance these bills. Their results come after years of work and hour upon hour of negotiation over the details of both bills.
HB 5104 is an amendment to the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMA). That bill identifies a new classification of marijuana- the ‘marijuana-infused product.’ Commonly referred to as MIP, this product classification includes edible forms of marijuana, topical applications, tinctures, soda pop and the like. Because the MMA is a voter-directed initiative, any change to the Act must pass the legislature with a 3/4 supermajority vote. 5104 passed with an 87% margin.
Some of those negotiation resulted in rules regarding the creation and use of MIPs. In all discussions, the nature of the patient-caregiver relationship was never up for compromise. “The caregivers are allowed to manufacture the products for their own patients, patients are allowed to manufacture the products for themselves. They don’t have to label them unless they are transporting them,” Schneider explained to the PGT audience.
“Provisioning centers have to manufacture their own as well. Patients and caregivers can still transfer usable marijuana, which includes extracts and resins to provisioning centers, but they will have to convert those into marijuana-infused products at the center- and that has to do with food safety issues.” Once a Center has produced an MIP they are required to label the products with information such as weight and cannabis content.
5104 was created not because MIPs have emerged as a new treatment option, but as a result of a Court of Appeals decision that criminalized the production or possession of the goods. “We had several years where people used these items as part of their treatment regimens,” said Jamie Lowell of Ypsilanti’s 3rd Coast Compassion Center, in an interview with TCC. “Patients became used to the relief they found in the non-smokable forms of marijuana products. Then, suddenly, a nonsensical decision was delivered in the Carruthers case that removed their protections from prosecution for those medicines. Dispensaries all across the state took those items off the shelf, and the people suffer for it. House Bill 5104 would go a long way toward restoring those non-intoxicating medicinal treatments.”
One of the groups most disadvantaged by the Carruthers decision were parents of pediatric cannabis patients; more than 50 minors are authorized to use cannabis as a treatment under the MMA.
“The parent group came to us and pointed out all their parental rights were all in Section 4 and they were all using extracts and concentrates to treat their children,” Schneider explained on PGT. “Not only were they risking jail but they were risking their custody.”
Many of those parents were in the gallery during the House vote that sent this bill on to the Senate. “The parent group is very happy, which is, at the end of the day, what matters to me,” Schneider said.
For various reasons, many patients are not able to create these items for themselves- and that’s where the Provisioning Centers Act comes in. HB 4271 gives local communities the option to allow marijuana distribution centers to exist and enjoy protections from county and state-level law enforcement agencies.
“The big thing that I really like about 4271 in particular is this local option. It’s a thing of beauty,” Lindsey said. Although nearly one hundred dispensaries are still open in Michigan, their legal status is not solid. A few communities, like Ypsilanti, have created rules governing the operation of dispensaries but most exist via informal operating agreements and through good working relationships with local Councils and authorities.
Lindsey described 4271 as trying “to present protections and recognize that the (dispensary) model that had emerged… over time in Michigan was a good model, what it needed was protections.”
Through his work in Montana and through the MPP, Lindsey has a national perspective on the Michigan situation. “We are in a unique point in history,” Lindsey explained. “The model that we have in Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, soon to be Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, soon to be Nevada, soon to be Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, D.C., you have mom and pop shops who are able to participate in this emerging industry. If the federal government were really to get involved in the regulation on a large scale the way that it does in practically everything else that it does, we would really not have the kind of model that has become the standard across the country… it is their lack of participation that has given us the ability to create the kind of system that we have in Michigan.”
Cultivation of marijuana is a central theme of the MMA, as patients are allowed to grow marijuana for themselves- or they can designate a caregiver to grow for them. Any extra marijuana produced could be taken to a Provisioning Center and legally sold, under the rules of HB 4271. A third bill, SB 660, was debated and voted on with the others; that bill proposes to create giant marijuana farms to produce marijuana through a second and separate medical marijuana program, once marijuana is rescheduled by the federal government. That bill has passed through the legislature and is slated to be signed by Governor Rick Snyder in March of 2014.
“(The federal government) would not want marijuana to to be grown in the United States,” Lindsey explained to the PGT audience. “They would want it grown somewhere else, processed somewhere else, imported according to FDA standards like it does with opiates, like it does with medicinal cocaine and all these other things.” Lindsey later expanded his comments by saying, “The problem is that they’re (the federal government) going to look at that and say, yeah you’ve got a model but we don’t deal in crude narcotics- and that’s the way that they look at marijuana. No more than they deal with opium and with cocaine. They do not let people grow cocoa in Florida to go make medicinal cocaine. It doesn’t work that way.”
Not everyone that voted for the bills in the House did so because they want marijuana in their communities.
Attorney John Targowski was one of the guests on the Planet Green Trees broadcast. “Having the Representative from Portage, Michigan, which is a conservative part of Kalamazoo, vote for 4271… Margaret O’Brien… she is clearly not a pro-marijuana person,” Targowski offered, “but she voted for this because it creates the ability to say ‘No’ if the city wants to.”
Targowski delivered what may have been the broadcast’s most quotable statement: “As a criminal defense attorney, I am thinking, man, marijuana is really not going to be illegal that much longer.”
Considering the Senate has a strong Republican majority and that HB 5104 requires 29 YES votes to pass, the task ahead may be a challenge.
“There are 38 Senators,” Schneider said, “and it took us a long time to educate the Representatives.”
Schneider was upbeat about the opportunity for success in the Michigan Senate during 2014′s legislative session. “I will say that there were some conversations that were had in the Capitol (Thursday) pertaining to the Senate… I left there very confident, very excited about the Senate, and any concerns that I had were pretty much gone by the end of the day. I would say we are looking very good.”
“I would expect that, when we come back in January, we’ll know exactly what committee it’s gonna be in,” Schneider said, reaffirming the commitment from NPRA to usher the bills through the process. “It’s gonna have to be a very strategic and quick move to get this done. We’re thrilled.”
The organization has been willing to listen to the medical marijuana community for suggestions regarding amendments to the bills. “In January, if we need to fix some things in the Senate, we will.”
Listen to the Planet Green Trees radio show every Thursday at 8pm EST by clicking on the following link:
Listen to the entire PGT broadcast: