In November 2008, 63% of Michigan voters passed the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, making Michigan the 14th state to adopt a medical marijuana law. In spite of enjoying overwhelming support for the act, local governments and state agencies have been slow, and in some cases have fought, implementation of the law. This should come as no surprise, given the fact that federal and state policy has been geared to fiercely fight against marijuana cultivation and use under any circumstances.
Although the basis for marijuana prohibition has been dubious since its inception, local and State of Michigan officials seem determined to prevent the integration of the medical marijuana program and its participants into our state’s society. Patients and caregivers have been denied the corporate form, local governments placed moratoria on dispensaries, and cities like Lansing are implementing zoning restrictions much like those applied to the adult entertainment industry to restrict dispensaries.
For nearly 80 years we have been bombarded with hysterical propaganda designed to equate marijuana with heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Moreover, cold-war propaganda linked marijuana use with communism. Dopers = Commies! President Nixon doubled down on these efforts by launching the “War on Drugs,” which is a misnomer because the war is waged against people who use and deal in drugs. The War on Drugs has accomplishments which include, but are not limited to (1) soaring incarceration rates world-wide; (2) broken families; (3) $15 billion dollars spent by the federal government in 2010 to fight the “War”; (3) the creation of extremely wealthy and well-armed drug cartels; and yet (4) marijuana is still universally accessible to teenagers. Well done indeed! The Global Commission on Drug Policy released its report on June 1, 2011 which declared the War on Drugs a complete failure.
States across the country are passing medical marijuana laws specifically because marijuana has medicinal uses, but also because criminal prohibition policies are a complete failure. Michigan residents, like those in Arizona and other states, are confronted with the fact that their elected officials seem reluctant to follow their will and implement the law they voted for. The MMMA has been decried as poorly drafted, vague, and ambiguous. Government officials are using these excuses as grounds to ignore their mandate to make the medical marijuana program work for Michiganders.
The notions that this law is poorly drafted and difficult to implement are greatly overstated. The MMMA provides registered qualifying patients and caregivers clear limitations on the amount of marijuana they can possess and how many plants they can grow. The only ambiguity comes in Section 8 of the MMMA which provides a “patient,” as opposed to a Section 4 “registered qualifying patient,” may possess a “reasonable amount” of marijuana to treat or alleviate his or her debilitating medical condition. Section 8 allows a patient, arguably, greater freedom because such a patient does not have to register with the Michigan Department of Community Health to qualify for the protections under the Act. However, the patient will have to prove he or she has a physician’s recommendation to avoid prosecution or penalty from a professional licensing board.
State courts cite the federal Controlled Substances Act as grounds to deny patients and caregivers the right to organize non-profit corporations to provide medical marijuana services. Bueche v Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, Doc. No. 09-453-NI, April 8, 2011. In Bueche, Plaintiff sought the general corporate form for his medical marijuana business, but was denied by DELEG (now call LARA) because marijuana is a federal crime. The Michigan Non-Profit Act provides the government must provide the general corporate form to individuals engaged in legal non-profit business. MCL 450. 2101 et seq. Medical marijuana services are legal under state law but not under federal, thus barring patients and caregivers the right to organize a non-profit corporation. However, casino gaming is illegal under federal law, but none of the state’s casinos have been denied the corporate form by LARA.
Why does our state integrate casino gaming into our society but not medical marijuana? Both are job creators, and medical marijuana is a $1.7 billion per year business. Our state and local governments are undercutting economic growth when they should be working towards building a safe and legal industry. The Global Commission on Drug Policy advocates building a strong regulated market for medical marijuana specifically to counter balance drug cartels’ influence and power. Michigan could create a model medical marijuana program but until our elected leaders accept the reality that medical marijuana is here to stay, Michigan’s voters will have to remind them who is in charge.
Matthew J. Heos
The Heos Law Firm, PLC