I am proud to say, I did some of the footwork.
At the end of the December 8 Judiciary Committee meeting, where new amendments to Michigan’s medical marijuana dispensary bills were introduced, Sen. Jones promised the people in attendance, “I am very sorry we could not have a vote today; that was my full intent… but I will have (a vote) as soon as possible.”
Two days after testimony by myself and others against the new version of the dispensary/warehousing/transport/seed-to-sale bill, Jones appeared in news media to say that he was abandoning all hope of passing the bills in Committee.
Per the MIRS news service: “New regulations on the state’s medical marijuana industry won’t be coming out of the Legislature in 2015 and may have problems moving in the Senate next year with a House-passed package having stalled in a Senate committee… (Jones) doesn’t have the votes in his committee to move” the bill package. MIRS, Medical Marijuana Regulation Shelved Until 2016, December 10 (no Internet link)
It’s a bizarre admission for the Senator to make, and a rarely-used political strategy, but the action to bypass Committee is allowable under state law.
What changed, and what was said? Oh, that’s a juicy story, to be sure.
In the MIRS article it states, “Jones (says) political in-fighting within the medical marijuana community has created a situation where he doesn’t have the votes in his committee to move HB 4209, HB4210 and HB 4827.”
Hey, Senator Jones: there’s no political infighting. We all agree. HB 4209 and HB 4827 suck, and they should die. (See the end of the article)
What made Jones go from voting it out “today” to not voting it out at all? Testimony against the newest version of the bills, and the removal of support from pro-marijuana groups who had, after the end of the 2014 legislative session, negotiated compromises with lawmakers to make the bills passable.
Jones was so sure of himself and his control of the bills before the Committee hearing began he didn’t mind bragging about how much he had this situation under control. “I am very sorry we could not have a vote today; that was my full intent… but I will have (a vote) as soon as possible.”
If Jones said that, he must have though the had the votes to do so.
Testimony from the smart side of the argument came first from Jim Powers, representing Michigan Parents for Compassion. Powers outlined the need to pass HB 4210, a bill designed to re-legalize concentrates, edibles and other non-smoked forms of marijuana for patient use. Powers and others expressed support for the Senate version of HB 4210 as well, called SB 140 and its companion, SB 141. Powers later told TCC that he is strongly opposed to HB 4209 in its amended form.
Ms. Mitchell of the Michigan Responsibility Council (MRC) took the podium shortly thereafter. She was joined in the chamber that day by fellow MRC members Tim Beck and Paul Wellday.
Mitchell revealed the group’s interest in the bills when she told the Committee that there were too many potential growing operations available for entrepreneurs under the current proposal. The proposed language would require “hundreds” of grow facilities, she said, and cited Illinois’ policy to allow 22 growers statewide with a critical tone.
Mitchell’s words label the MRC as seeking a Responsible Ohio-style, ten-players-only monopoly on cultivation for the marijuana market. Jones wisely distanced himself from that concept. “I think the bills are an attempt to make sure we don’t have an Ohio-like monopoly,” Jones told the Committee chamber at the end of session.
In an MLive article by Jonathan Oosting, Jones added, ”I had been told by all the groups prior to this that we don’t want monopolies, we don’t want some wealthy person to come in and buy up everything and control everything.”
The MRC testimony was followed by a mish-mash of government officials and activists speaking on various facets of the bills themselves. The Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Townships Authority spoke, as did advocate Roger Maufort of the JC3. Eric Gunnels of Thetford Township spoke.
An addiction industry representative spoke, and used outdated science he gained from Project SAM and other government sources. Advocates spoke about the repressive language contained in the bills, and the need for protections.
Last to testify was myself, representing Michigan NORML and other organizations. Mitchell’s concept of too many grow operations was quickly addressed:
“There are 83 counties in the state. If there are 200 licensed growers, that’s only 2.5 licensed growers per county. I don’t think that reaches a level of saturation…
“When someone expresses that 22 facilities, as is expressed in Illinois law, is too many, it seems they are out of alignment with the common man and logical thinking. That approach is an embrace of monopoly, and is in opposition to Governor Snyder’s plan for small business as the backbone of success for Michigan’s future.”
Jones hiding the substitute bill from the citizens prior to the Committee hearing was addressed during my testimony, as were aspects of the bill that eliminate caregivers from commercial enterprise and the enormous criminality created for medical marijuana patients by the proposed law.
The bill package “creates far more categories of criminal behavior for medical marijuana patients than it creates protections and rights,” said Rick Thompson of Michigan NORML. “Remember that medical marijuana patients pay the state for the privilege to participate in the program, and yet you’re creating vast degrees of criminality for people who pay for the opportunity to participate.”
But perhaps the biggest bombshell came when Iraq War veteran Dakota Serna took the podium and testified as to his service and need for medical marijuana. He began to take issue with the county Sheriff departments, the police entities that seem to do the most raids and damage to patients, but when the veteran referred to law enforcement as “jack boots” and “thugs”, Sen Jones stopped him in mid-sentence.
Jones is a former Sheriff of Eaton County (pop. 108,000) and he is law enforcement’s biggest ally in the legislature. A tense exchange began between the former Sheriff and the war veteran, which resulted in Jones ordering guards to eject Dakota Serna from the Committee chambers. After a few tense moments Serna left peacefully, to applause from advocates present.
Jones ejecting Serna from the chamber generated a good deal of media, most of it in support of the veteran. A video showing the conflict between Jones and Serna went viral through social media and Internet news portals. Most of the reaction to the Senator was, predictably, not in his favor.
Also not in his favor: the National Patients Rights Association, whose capable spokesperson Robin Schneider told media from all across the state that they had no support for the three-tiered model outlined in the new version of the dispensary bill, HB 4209, but maintained support for the smoking alternatives bill, HB 4210.
“I haven’t heard anything good about that model, so I don’t know why we would want to do it again with a new substance, especially when this is medicine and we’re supposed to be concerned about patient care and patients’ needs,” she told Oosting and MLive.
Leaders from the state’s marijuana advocacy organizations had already made statements of opposition to the bills over the summer after manipulation in the House Judiciary added rules requiring armored cars, seed-to-sale tracking and more criminality to HB 4209. NPRA has now joined those leaders in retracting support.
Also withdrawing support for HB 4209: Evergreen Management, whose leader George Brikho was a Republican candidate for Congress.
After taking a media beating of epic proportions on December 9, the MIRS report from December 10 revealed Jones no longer has the support of his Committee members. Of the five Committee members, Jones was a Yes vote, Schuitmacker and Rocca were resistant because of the conflict with federal laws, Colbeck was a decided NO and Bieda had too many questions remaining to guarantee a yes vote, per the MIRS article.
“We have considerable work to do on this issue,” Bieda said during the hearing.
If you don’t have the votes, don’t call a vote. That is Senator Jones’ plan, anyway. MIRS reports: “(Jones) said he asked Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) to discharge the bills from his committee.” Instead of letting the bills die in Committee, or trying to amend language until it is acceptable, Jones is going to sidestep his fellow Senators and take it to the full Senate, where he has more supporters.
If Jones is successful and gets Meekhof to allow the bill package to be considered on the Senate floor, he will turn it into a Christmas tree.
That is a term describing legislation where lawmakers throw a bunch of other stuff onto a bill in hopes of getting the Senate to vote for the entire package. “Jones also intends to link the packages to bills that would let landlords ban medical marijuana in rental units and create a police pilot program for roadside saliva testing in suspected drugged driving cases,” per the MLive article.
Neither of those proposals would be passed if offered by itself, but Jones will throw them onto the bill package like ugly ornaments on a beautiful blue spruce.