On Election Day 2008, an overwhelming 63 percent of Michigan voters approved a law allowing medical marijuana transactions, despite federal drug laws that prohibit the sale and consumption of pot. But if the state of Michigan won’t stand in the way of medical marijuana providers, then many federal drug enforcement authorities soon won’t be able to either due to the terms of a budget directive agreed to this week in the U.S. Congress and likely to be signed by the President. Michigan’s dogmatic opponents of medical marijuana distribution, such as Attorney General Bill Schuette, will soon be on a lonely island of unpopular policy, separated from most of the electorate and an indifferent federal government.
According to a Wednesday news release from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a drug law reform organization, GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California has successfully attached an amendment to the federal budget that prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from “using federal funds to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana operations.” So, while federal law doesn’t yet allow an exception for state-approved medical marijuana facilities to operate, the budget will soon yank funding from enforcement against those retailers wherever they are permitted under state laws.
“Congress has finally listened to the vast majority of Americans who believe the federal government has no right to interfere in the personal decision to use medical marijuana made by a patient in consultation with his or her doctor,” said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of LEAP and a former Baltimore Police Department supervisor.
Dispensaries had been selling marijuana to patients under protection of Michigan’s 2008 law until a February 2013 Michigan Supreme Court ruling invalidated that protection. While patients remain protected as consumers, retailers no longer have clear legal protection to sell. Ever since, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette – a fierce opponent of the 2008 law – has aggressively encouraged and assisted the closure and criminal prosecution of those seeking to sell pot under the 2008 law.
Shortly after the Michigan Supreme Court ruling, Republican state Rep. Mike Callton of Nashville introduced a bill to re-legalize and regulate the retail dispensaries. The bill passed the Republican-controlled House last year by an overwhelming 95-14 vote, with 59 Republican supporters. Despite the Legislature moving to remedy the seller ambiguity, the Attorney General didn’t apply his prosecutorial discretion to ease off dispensary businesses people caught in the legal limbo, and continued to prosecute them.
He also used his influence this summer to actively oppose further progress on Callton’s bill. As of Dec. 12, one year after approval in the House, the proposal had not been voted on by the Michigan Senate, despite Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville’s support.
At the federal level, Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner allowed a vote on the Rohrabacher amendment. Michigan Republican Congressmen Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Justin Amash of Cascade Township voted in favor of it.
The Michigan Senate should pass the stalled Callton bill, and Gov. Snyder should sign it.
The 2008 medical marijuana vote shows the Attorney General has never been on the side of the vast majority of the citizens he supposed to serve. He has now been abandoned by the federal government above him, and a rapidly growing chunk of his fellow Republicans are demanding a smarter policy path as well. If he’s still holding this up, then it is is time for him to learn to live amiably with the people who need medical marijuana, the business people needed to distribute it, and the three million Michigan voters who said this is the drug policy they want.
Ken Braun was a legislative aide for a Republican lawmaker in the Michigan House and worked for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He has assisted in a start-up effort to encourage employers to provide economic education to employees, and is currently the director of policy for InformationStation.org. His employer is not responsible for what he says here, on Facebook, or Twitter … or in Spartan Stadium on game days.
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