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Dealing with Medical Marijuana

Royal Oak's Plan Commission has recommended that the City Commission approve a requested location and plan of operation for retail selling of medical marijuana. On this page, VersagiVoice will accumulate information and opinion as the, long, dialogue goes on. -- 29 Mar 10


Medical Marijuana

(Comment re 09 Aug 2010 CITCOM meeting)


►Unless unfavorable legal considerations override sentiment, Royal Oak intends to make no accommodation for growing or dispensing marijuana intended for medical use -- except , one hopes, for home-growing by eligible patients. Certainly that is where the city stands now, a day or two after the 09 August 2010 CITCOM meeting, where 35 Public Comment Royal Oakers and out-of-towners made their pro and con pitches The city attorney has been directed to prepare language concerning options to present at the 16 August meeting.

►It immediately became obvious that most of those opposed to a proposed commercial growing-facility are unable or unwilling to grant any special consideration for medical marijuana. Pot is pot in their minds. That does not detract from the substance of their concern: Marijuana is a gateway drug. . . . Its use, especially by young people, often results in anti-social, even criminal, behavior. . . .Used by adults, marijuana dulls the mind for everything from driving to data entry. . . . The invited opening speaker cited his California experiences to paint a picture of out-of-control pot dispensaries and of street gangs. He cited sources who or which contend that no medical benefits have been proved from the use of marijuana.


Proponents of medical marijuana included patients, caregivers, and a couple of individuals who are both patients and caregivers. One woman calmly announced that she is in chronic pain and "I'm dying." . . . They consider themselves living proof of the medical benefits. . . . A major concern of the patients is that misinterpretation of Michigan's law permitting medical marijuana will result in attempts to prohibit patients from growing their own supply at home.


Many speakers and a couple of commissioners said they voted for the Michigan law, which they considered a compassionate compromise that would be implemented along the traditional doctor-prescription-pharmacy path. They are uncomfortable with creating a non-medical marijuana industry outside that path.


►Tangentially, there are those who see economic benefits to Royal Oak in permitting growers and dispensaries. There will be employment and more income for the city. . . . Not so, reply those who say property taxes are paid even on unoccupied property, so there's no gain for the city. . . . Actually, it was the petitioner's unsuccessful attempt to prove hardship which caused the unanimous vote to deny his request. A second petitioner will be offered a hearing at the September 20 CITCOM meeting. The decision to grant the hearing came on 4-3 vote (Andrzejak, Semchena, Drinkwine voting No), after City Attorney Dave Gillam stressed the "due process" requirement in the moratorium.


The preceding paragraphs summarize what 35 speakers had to say, beginning with a petitioner's request to be exempted from the city's Medical Marijuana Moratorium, to establish a marijuana-growing facility in which several caregivers could grow enough plants to serve the legally allowed number of card-carrying patients.

From the commissioners, the opposing positions were well presented (but, unfortunately somewhat personalized) by Chuck Semchena and Jim Rasor. Their polar positions became evident at the very beginning of the CITCOM meeting, with the unattributed inclusion on the agenda of a federal Drug Enforcement Agency representative who was granted, with no time limit, the opportunity to present a talk titled "Rising crime rates and Michigan's new Marijuana Law." It developed that Chuck had arranged the presentation. Chuck explained that the DEA agent had spoken recently at some conference on the topic. Rasor asked permission to introduce another speaker who had also made a presentation at the conference. His request was denied, and his speaker was granted an extra minute or two after his time-limited talk during Public Comment.


Semchena's basic point is that, the actions of 14 states to the contrary, medical marijuana is illegal under federal law. He opts for what he calls the "Livonia Option," and he stresses that Royal Oak must act before its moratorium expires at the end of October. Rasor maintains that the Livonia Option seems to prohibit home-growing for medical purposes. He suggests that if Royal Oak nullifies what is permitted by state law, "We are going to be sued." Rasor is seen as pro medical marijuana and has maintained that permitting and regulating legal businesses would benefit the city economically. He smiled when one Public Comment speaker teased that Jim seems to have his own "stimulus plan" to help the city's finances. In a more serious mode, Rasor snapped at someone who attempted to interrupt his comments: "You've been talking for three hours. It's our turn."

Somewhere in all this it was discussed whether the Planning Commission should schedule another marijuana-focused hearing. I don't recall that any decision was reached.


The vote to approve Semchena's request for ordinance language which forbids any land use that is "illegal pursuant to Federal, State, or Local law" was 6-1, Rasor voting No.


Oakland County's legal department has made available to cities a 63-page report based on its research about all this. The report lists three options for each city: (1) Adopt a moratorium. (2) Regulate medical marijuana through zoning ordinances and permits. (3) Attempt to ban medical marijuana to the extent possible. (Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills have banned anything that violates federal law. L. Brook Patterson favors a ban. -- Aug 2010


The illusion of a marijuana tax is the headline on a Christian Science Monitor editorial which argues that legalizing marijuana, as is being considered in California, is not a good idea. The editorial challenges the assumption that there are economic benefits to the state, and it cites Canada's experience with cigarette taxes. "A mere $2 price difference between Canada and US cigarettes created such s smuggling problem that Canada repealed its tax hike." CSM added that the Netherlands's experience resulted in "increased dependence on the drug, spawned more dealers of harder drugs, and attracted a flow of rowdy 'drug tourists' from other countries."


Medical Marijuana goes on the back burner

Establishing a policy or ordinance in Royal Oak to deal with medical marijuana won't be addressed for some time, "indefinitely," according to a report in the Daily Tribune. Budget problems will require CITCOM's attention, Mayor Jim Ellison says. Besides, state rules are less than clear, he suggests.


Update: At its 19 April meeting CITCOM approved a 180-day moratorium on making any decision. The vote was 6-1, with Rasor voting No.


Clyde Esbri was the lone No-vote against approving the retail operation. His mini white paper provides an excellent starting point for the debate. (Emphasis by FJV)


Let me clearly state, I am absolutely in support of medical marijuana.


What I am not in support of is the method of growing/distribution being adopted by some cities...including Royal Oak.


If medical marijuana is truly for medicinal purposes, why not just treat it like any other medically prescribed drug? I believe medical marijuana should be grown in state controlled groweries to insure consistent product quality and potency. Furthermore, I believe that it should be distributed and dispensed through existing pharmaceutical networks, just like any other [legitimate] drug.


I have had some people suggest that my stance mirrors prohibition, I would argue the following; I like a cold beer as much as the next guy, but even beer, wine and alcohol sales are distributed through a closely monitored and TAXED state-controlled process. Why should medical marijuana be treated any differently?


As you may or may not know, there is a bill in Lansing (Senate Bill 618) which would directly address state run groweries and how medical marijuana would be dispensed. This bill has been stuck in committee for over a year now. As a result of the typical inaction in Lansing and because potential growers/dispensaries are eager to set up shop, cities are being forced to act on their own. If you study what has taken place in California with medical marijuana dispensaries, you'll see the lack of guidance from the state legislature has led to an out of control number of dispensaries there.


More locally, Novi and Troy for example have already enacted ordinances that follow federal law and have flat out banned dispensaries. The Royal Oak Planning Commission chose to recommend to the City Commission allowing them in specified zoning areas. It seems evident to me that these inconsistent policies from city to city will only lead to legal challenges, so why not err on the side of caution for the time being.


Also, if Lansing does take action and enacts laws that regulate groweries and distribution networks at the state level, how do cities like Royal Oak effectively shut down growers and distributors in the city once they have set up shop, without facing additional legal challenges?


The bottom line is, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act is a mess and the fact that our state leaders haven't taken a leadership role in addressing this issue, is forcing cities to enact ordinances which will most certainly lead to them being sued by some special interest group. -- Clyde Esbri: 29 Mar 10




New York legislators consider legalizing Medical Marijuana

They want to legalize medical marijuana as a way to generate nearly $15 million in licensing fees to help plug the state's $9 billion budget gap.


"It is the right thing to do and there is revenue attached to it," said state Sen. Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan). Duane and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) are behind the plan to make it legal for folks with serious medical woes to score limited amounts of weed from state-certified distributors - or grow it themselves. -- New York Daily News


Those Medical Marijuana Raids



About medical marijuana, as about drugs in general, the polar positions establish the extreme mindsets between which the range of opinions in the debate will fall. Here, the extreme positions are (a) Never. Ban all drugs. "Compassion" is just a dodge by druggies. (b) Legalize drugs. But hold people responsible for their behavior, whatever they may have sniffed or swallowed.


Nowhere are the polar positions better displayed than in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The former country for years put up with summer "outdoor raves," during which "revelers danced for days" on a cocktail of speed, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. After a few massive busts, Czech authorities liberalized the country's drug laws to the point that users face nothing worse than a fine if caught with an amount of drugs the law considers intended for personal use.


Across the border, in Slovakia, possession of even small amounts of marijuana can result in three years in jail.


Returning to Oakland County: The polar positions pertain perfectly to debate over the recent police raids on regional medical marijuana facilities.


The Law

Which law?

Medical Marijuana remains illegal under Federal law, though permitted under State law. And under Michigan law -- at least in some interpretations -- each Municipality has some freedom to enact and enforce local laws.


The Michigan law is supported by two-thirds to three-fourths of voters, statewide and in cities. However, "straight" citizens are quick to point out that, to them, "medical marijuana" means prescription-to-pharmacist-to-patient, not a new "industry" of growers and dispensaries and compassion clubs. Pro-legalization activists are suspected of lobbying to get exactly the type of legislation which permits an "industry" to form. Indeed, one attorney suggests that consumers and entrepreneurs both benefit from such a development.


With that much ambiguity about what is permitted or prohibited, police at the county and local levels are free to practice a level of enforcement based on what they had for breakfast. Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard undoubtedly had a bad breakfast day.


The Raids

Given the laws' ambiguities, one must acknowledge that Bouchard was acting legally, in the technical sense, in conducting the raids. Based on the experiences of, say, California, it is easy to believe that this or that legally permitted marijuana facility might behave illegally. Details don't matter when considering whether the illegality takes the form of selling or growing too much pot; selling to "patients" who have only a backache; or establishing sales paths completely unrelated to medical matters.


Grant Bouchard justification for conducting the raids. Troubling thoughts remain because neither he nor County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper has made any attempt to counter complaints that holding guns to the head of 70-year -old women and throwing pot-buyers or patients to the floor, a la violent criminals, is the use of excessive force. So it is understandable that Bouchard's language re putting the industry "on notice" has led even neutral observers to make comparisons to the way the Nazis operated: Ambiguous law, arbitrary enforcement, excessive force, confiscation of personal property.



The solution to all this mess? State-by-state, Legalize Drugs


The inevitable mix of pluses-and-minuses won't include anything like the daily tragedy of deaths or injuries of criminals, police, and innocents in the failed "War on Drugs." Or, mandated sentencing guidelines which give people caught possessing pot longer prison terms than violent criminals. Or, other forms of stupid behavior of officials who claim to be protecting society from itself.





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