Foot-dragging on medical marijuana issue

April 1, 2016

Once again, the Michigan legislature has shown its disposition for inaction won't be changed by mere public opinion or urgings by the state's highest court. Despite repeated requests from the Michigan Supreme Court, local governments and a strong vote of the people, legislators have continually failed to enact laws to clarify the state's nearly eight-year-old Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. 

In November of 2008, 63 percent of Michigan voters approved a statewide ballot proposal making marijuana legal for medical purposes with an approved card issued by the state. However, since then, the law has led to at least 18 Michigan Court of Appeals hearings and eight different state Supreme Court rulings. 

Meanwhile, local municipalities have taken an array of stances on what is and isn't permitted under the state's medical marijuana law. Likewise, patients and voters who overwhelmingly approved the law are caught in the middle, hoping they are following the law, but never really knowing if they are subject to legal action for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Take for instance the Michigan Supreme Court's 2013 decision finding that medical marijuana dispensaries aren't permitted under state law. Yet, the city of Detroit and many other local municipalities permit, or even regulate, dispensaries.

Medical marijuana patients who want to take their medication in an edible form, rather than smoking, run the risk of facing criminal charges. That's because law enforcement considers the entire weight of the edible, which often come in the form of candy or baked goods, when determining the amount of drug a person has in their possession. That means a non-smoking patient with an edible weighing several ounces is considered to have that much marijuana, rather than the amount of the drug in the food.

Issues such as edibles, dispensaries and dozens of other questions that have yet to be clarified by the courts have to be addressed by the legislature. Yet, nearly eight years after the passage of the act, the legislature has failed to take any serious steps toward enacting the law sought by the majority of voters in the state. That's unacceptable. And non-responsive to the wishes of the people who elected them.

There have been, and are currently, several legislative initiatives intended to address some of the issues with the medical marijuana law. One such proposal, HB 4210, is a legitimate bill that attempts to address the edible issue. Passed in October of 2015 by the House by a vote of 343 to 96, the bill has sat stagnant in the Senate Judiciary Committee since October 8, where it's likely to die without action.

Members of the legislature, particularly conservatives who have worked to block efforts to clarify the state's medical marijuana law, should be advised to cast their personal opinions aside – or special interests – and do the work that the voters tasked them with when electing them to office. Voters clearly supported legalizing medical marijuana. Any attempt to subvert the law, create restrictions blocking access to medical marijuana, or failing to address clear issues with the law, we feel, is a dereliction of duty on behalf of state lawmakers.

Clearly, the efforts of pro-marijuana groups currently working to pass three different ballot initiatives in the state to legalize recreational use of marijuana are the direct result of the legislature's complete failure to deal with medical marijuana issues over the past eight years. Why wait for legislators to drag things out when you can just go direct to the voters?

Lawmakers in Lansing have shown repeatedly that they can produce quick results when it comes to legislation that appeals to their own special interests. 

It's time those we sent to Lansing to do our business start addressing the issues of interest to voters at-large.

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