Letter From the President
We have seen positive changes in the past few months pertaining to national and state wide marijuana policies. Despite growing popular support and various state wide initiatives pushing cannabis reform forward, marijuana’s schedule 1 status will continue to pose significant challenges to the medical cannabis community. In spite of the momentum that has been building over the last few months, we as a community must take a ‘wait and see’ approach. As we noted last month, Eric Holder’s address to the American Bar Association marked a new approach in sentencing guidelines for marijuana related crimes. It is important to remember that the Federal government has not changed any laws; they have merely changed their policy toward marijuana prosecutions.
There have been a number of developments over the summer that may grant the cannabis community a certain amount of cautious optimism.
Many at the hearing hoped for a breakthrough that would lead to changes in federal banking laws, allowing marijuana sellers to accept credit cards and checks, not just cash. Allowing sellers to accept checks and credit cards would do a lot to prevent the burglarization of their locations and would keep money out of the hands of organized crime.
Many others were calling for all out legalization, including Leahy himself. With marijuana now legal for recreational use in Washington and Colorado, it makes little sense for the federal government to maintain the current schedule one labeling of the drug. In Michigan, lawmakers could take up House Bill 4623 that would decriminalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults over 21. Michigan currently spends roughly $325 million annually to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate marijuana users, many of whom are patients and caregivers under the current Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA).
Recent developments that show legalization could be on the horizon include:
1) In March, for the first time ever, a national survey showed that the majority of Americans believe that marijuana should be legal.
2) Dr. Sanjay Gupta (who was President Obama's first choice for Surgeon General) stated that he had viewed Marijuana wrongly in the past and apologized for his previous statement that marijuana had no medicinal value whatsoever.
3) The announcement from Senator John McCain that if the people want it, "maybe we should just legalize marijuana."
4) The Senate hearing put together by Senator Leahy of Vermont, the first of its kind, to debate the country's policy of marijuana prohibition and its effectiveness/failures.
5) Holder's announcement to the American Bar Association and the 94 Attorney General's across the nation about using their prosecutorial discretion to determine whether they will charge marijuana offenders with mandatory minimums.
Though these are all signs that momentum is building for a new Federal Policy toward marijuana, nothing has really changed. The Federal Government still classifies marijuana as a schedule one controlled substance, and medical marijuana patients and caregivers continue to be arrested as dispensaries across the country are raided. Before we raise our fists in victory, we must wait and see what the federal government will do next. Michigan will have the opportunity to decriminalize Marijuana for adults over 21, joining 16 other states with similar policies. As more states move in a direction in opposition to the Federal Government's marijuana policy there will be overwhelming pressure for them to do something. Let us hope that the Fall and Winter continue to build on the momentum we created in Spring and Summer of 2013.