LANSING, MI — Legislation that would have allowed for the legal return and regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan stalled out this week in the waning hours of the lame-duck session.
House Bill 4271, approved a year ago by the lower chamber, died a quiet death in the Senate, which wrapped up the 2013-14 session on early Friday morning without acting on the measure.
Companion legislation that would have allowed medical marijuana patients to use non-smokable forms of the drug — including “medibles” — also failed to advance.
State Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, said he personally asked Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville to pull his dispensary legislation from the agenda Thursday afternoon when its fate became clear.
“It wasn’t going to have the votes,” Callton said. “It was really looking good this morning. I was all excited. And then the Sheriff’s Association had all their sheriffs call all their senators, and suddenly we lost a lot of votes.”
Medical marijuana advocates gathered in the state Capitol earlier Thursday, hoping to see action on bills they have argued would improve access for patients certified to use the drug for medical purposes under a 2008 voter-approved law.
Richardville and other lawmakers had been working with the Michigan State Police and governor’s office in hopes of fine-tuning the bills and addressing lingering concerns, but critics mounted a late push to bury the bills.
The Michigan Sheriff’s Association, Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Michigan Association for Local Public Health and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan circulated a letter Thursday telling lawmakers that the bills would “take Michigan down an uncharted course.”
“Michigan has experienced significant and wide ranging problems for patients, local government, law enforcement and the courts in the original Medical Marijuana Act,” said the letter. “A repeat of that is likely with HB 4271 and HB 5104.”
If lawmakers are interested in new medical marijuana distribution options, the letter continued, they should take more time to work on the plan next year.
That’s the plan, according to Callton.
“We’re going to have to work with them next session to get them on board or we’re never going to pass it,” he said.
Medical marijuana dispensaries operated freely in many Michigan communities until a February 2013 ruling by the state Supreme Court empowered county prosecutors to shut them down as a “public nuisance.”
The Michigan Court of Appeals, in July of that year, ruled that “pot brownies” were not a usable form of marijuana under the medical law, clouding the legal status of various “medibles,” which some patients prefer as a healthier alternative to smoking.
Two other bills approved this week by the state Legislature and headed to the governor’s desk would legalize industrial hemp research in Michigan.
The federal government has treated hemp as an illegal narcotic since 1970 due to its similarity to marijuana, but the federal Farm Bill enacted earlier this year included an amendment paving the way for industrial hemp research in states that allow it.
The federal “cromnibus” spending bill approved this month also includes language prohibiting the Justice Department from interfering with the production of industrial hemp, according to The Washington Post.
Jonathan Oosting is a Capitol reporter for MLive Media Group. Email him, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.
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