Michigan police propose changes to medical pot dispensary bill, end of caregiver model

November 11, 2015:

LANSING, MI — Michigan law enforcement officials are not fully backing plans to overhaul the state’s medical marijuana system, but unlike last year, they aren’t standing in the way of proposed legislation.

“While law enforcement cannot support any legislation that by definition is illegal under federal law due to the classification of marijuana, what we can do is find a position not to oppose having a tough and tight regulatory framework,” said Howell Police Chief George Basar, legislative chairman for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

Basar and other law enforcement officials testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering House-approved legislation that would allow the state to license and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, growers and other related businesses.

Michigan’s medical marijuana law, approved by voters in 2008, created a system where registered patients and caregivers can grow a limited number of plants, but it did not address storefront dispensaries. The state Supreme Court, in a 2012 ruling, held that dispensaries can be shut down as a public nuisance.

Law enforcement groups successfully blocked medical marijuana dispensary legislation last session, but sponsoring Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, made a concerted effort to bring them to the table this year.

His new medical marijuana bill, which would impose a 3-percent tax on dispensaries’ gross retail income, is part of a larger package that would also create a seed-to-sale tracking system for plants and establish rules for edible and other non-smokable forms of the drug.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Rick Jones, a former Eaton County Sheriff, generally supports the move toward a regulated medical marijuana industry but is sympathetic to concerns from the law enforcement community.

“I think we’ve reached the point of the wild wild west out there right now,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “Apparently caregivers are selling their overages to these dispensaries, there’s not licensing, people don’t know what they get.”

Law enforcement groups proposed several changes to the medical marijuana bills on Tuesday. Read about some of their requests below.

GET RID OF CAREGIVERS

If dispensaries are formally allowed, law enforcement groups would like the state to stop registering caregivers, who are allowed to grow up to 12 plants each for five patients in a secure location, including their home. As of last year, there were about 23,000 registered caregivers in Michigan and 96,000 patients.

“Once the system is up and running, there will be no need for caregivers to grow a product since the patient will be able to access marijuana at the dispensaries,” said Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth, who testified on behalf of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

Sgt. Amy Dehner of the Michigan State Police said the agency remains concerned that extra marijuana grown by caregivers — known as “overage” — will make its way to the black market, and MSP does not support allowing caregivers to sell to dispensaries.

“We don’t have an answer for the overage other than to either phase out or completely get rid of the caregiver model,” she said.

Doing so would confirm the worst fears of medical marijuana activist, who believe the reform effort is an attempt to undermine the caregiver model.

“This is what patients and caregivers have been worried about since the start of this legislative process back in 2011,” said Rick Thompson, a medical marijuana advocate and board member for Michigan NORML.

“We’ve never seen law enforcement agencies openly speak about destroying a core value of the Michigan Medical Marihauana Act until now, but they spoke about it so casually, it almost made it seem as if the decision has been made.”

It would be hard for the Legislature to eliminate the caregiver system — a 3/4 supermajority vote is required to amend a voter-approved law — and Jones made clear that is not the intent of the current legislation.

But Thompson, who was frustrated that there was no public comment period during Tuesday’s hearing, said he is concerned that a court ruling or legal interpretation could jeopardize the caregiver model in the future.

OUTLAW ‘UBER WEED’

The medical marijuana legislation would create a new state license for “secure transporters” to shuttle marijuana between businesses, but state police suggested adding language to prevent home deliveries and internet sales by dispensaries.

“What we want to avoid is the private delivery services — Uber Weed, insert random name here — people that are delivering as dispensaries to patients or caregivers,” Dehner said.

She also suggested the Legislature consider additional regulations for transporters — such as bonding, the use of unmarked trucks or having at least two people in a vehicle at all time — to ensure that marijuana is delivered in a safe and secure fashion.

Dehner acknowledged concerns that tight marijuana transportation regulations could create a monopoly-like system for companies that already ship tobacco and alcohol, but she said a secure system is a top public safety priority for state police.

“In our mind, the transportation part of this is just as important as licensing the other tiers within this structure,” she said.

ADD LOCAL INSPECTIONS, LOCAL FUNDING

The current legislation would allow state police to inspect medical marijuana facilities, but local police and county sheriff’s should also have that authority, according to Wriggelsworth.

“Inspection by local police is a valuable tool for making sure that licensees are in compliance with the law and to enforce the act,” he said.

Wriggelsworth also suggested that registered caregivers should be subject to similar licensing and inspection rules, a proposal that did not sit well with activists.

“It’s scary,” said Thompson. “Allowing police to enter your home anytime they want just to inspect your grow is constitutionally troubling and violates what the Founding Father’s intended.”

If local police are to enforce the law, they should also get a cut of the dispensary tax revenue, according to Wriggelsworth. The law, as currently written, provides funding to sheriff’s but not municipal police departments.

Basar, with the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, also suggested law enforcement should have “access to any database of licensees, so we’re able to quickly and easily confirm individuals’ standing.”

STRENGTHEN DRUGGED DRIVING LAWS

Law enforcement officials want legislators to sign off on “enhanced roadside detection” methods for for drugged driving, as Dehner put it.

State police have seen a “spike” in the number of cases where “cannabanoids” were detected in a driver’s system since the medical marijuana law took effect, she said, topping out at 91 cases in 2012.

Separate Senate legislation, would allow Michigan State Police to develop a pilot program for roadside marijuana testing, including the use of oral swabs or new breath test technology designed to detect the main psychoactive chemical in the drug.

The edible medical marijuana bill should make direct reference to driving while impaired, according to St. Clair County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Wendling, president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

“Just like we are concerned about the use of all substances, whether they be legalized or illegal or prescription or alcohol, these substances need to be considered in the operation of cars.”

The Michigan Legislature approved a drugged driving bill last year, but only after removing roadside saliva testing language due to concerns that the science was inexact and could lead to improper arrests of medical marijuana patients.

“THC standards just aren’t there,” said Thompson, who is opposed to the new roadside testing bill. “They can detect presence but not impairment. It’s an incomplete tool, and to try to put that into widespread use, without training or understanding the science, is irresponsible.”

WHAT’S NEXT

The recommendations from law enforcement groups are just that, recommendations. The Senate Judiciary is expected to continue testimony on the bills in December before making any changes or holding a vote.

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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