A Michigan House committee on Tuesday conducted the first of likely many political battles over a proposed legislation package that would sharply reduce the number of patients caregivers can serve while forcing caregivers to follow testing and seed-to-sale tracking rules already followed by commercial cannabis growers in the state.
The hearing, conducted by the House Regulatory Reform Committee in just under two hours and limited to testimony with no votes, attracted a packed room of activists requesting to testify. Committee Chair Rep. Roger Hauck (R-Mt. Pleasant), limited most testimony to five minutes and vowed to cut testifiers off if they strayed from making direct comments about the proposed bills.
Hauck’s promise was tested multiple times by opponents to the bill, leading to one of the most heated moments, when Michigan NORML executive director Rick Thompson repeatedly commented on earlier testimony made by bill supporter and MCMA leader Steve Linder, “You spent an hour and forty-five minutes listening to government employees and public relations people,” Thompson told the committee.
“This testimony is done. Thank you,” said Chair Hauck as he gaveled Thompson from his microphone. “I will let everyone be heard, but I’m not going to be lectured by someone.”
Despite the hearing’s histrionics, most of the testimony barely strayed from points already made in other venues, such as MCMA’s (Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers’ Association) press conference on their polling data and a rally held on the Lansing Capitol Lawn by caregivers last month.
Michigan cannabis laws first enacted through a 2008 referendum allow caregivers registered with the state to grow up to 12 cannabis plants for five registered patients, plus themselves – up to 72 plants – at any one time. Caregiver and patient registration lists are not subject to FOIA or public review, and caregiver grow operations are allowed to be conducted on residential property and can include extraction. The resulting product may only be transferred to that caregiver’s registered patients, according to the referendum law.
Laws passed through referendum in Michigan require a three-quarters majority in both houses to pass.
Debate over the legislation is quickly devolving into two frames of reference: Legislators and industry leaders attempting to control cannabis production to ensure it does not support criminal enterprises, versus caregivers and patients concerned changes to the law will result in less access to a drug they believe has significantly changed their lives for the better.
One of the bill sponsors, Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch) spoke about his concern with how the caregiver title is being co-opted by illicit enterprises.
“I still deal intimately with all 18 townships in my county. They are being overwhelmed by these so-called caregiver operations,” Howell testified. “I’m sure many [caregivers] are not criminals, but I can tell ya, there’s a ton of ‘em that are criminals and they are all over my county. I’m not talking a few, I’m talking a hundred in a small rural county. They are coming in, they are buying houses, they are gutting those houses. They are setting up marijuana operations, putting up fences, vicious dogs around them, they are carrying guns. It’s bringing a criminal element into my community and other rural communities.”
A recent Grown In interview with caregivers backed up some of Howell’s concerns, as a group of caregivers agreed that “about half” of caregiver product ends up in the underground market.
Arguing against the proposed legislation, Susan Fisher gave tear-inducing testimony that her access to inexpensive cannabis from a caregiver allows her to comfortably eat and sleep despite her Stage IV neuroendocrine cancer.
“If it weren’t for medical marijuana, I wouldn’t be able to eat. I lost 170 pounds,” Fisher testified. “I can’t sleep at night, and there are people up here talking about entrepreneurs. And how their people can get money, and I just wonder, who should my caregiver get rid of? Should they get rid of Susan? Who should they get rid of?”