Michigan High Court to Legislature: The Ball’s in Your Court
Six days after the Michigan Supreme Court punted on the issue of safe access to medical cannabis, the legislature finally took the field.
On Feb. 8, the high court barred the transfer of medical cannabis between patients in Michigan v. McQueen, effectively forcing the closure of the state’s dispensaries and clubs. This perfunctory abandonment of Michigan’s MMJ community was a clear message to the legislature: this is your problem to fix.
Within a week, Rep. Michael Callton (R-Nashville) introduced HB 4271 to create “provisioning centers” (a.k.a dispensaries), and Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) announced plans to introduce a decriminalization bill. This is welcome news indeed, but the legislative process is lengthy and uncertain. In the interim, tens of thousands of patients without access to a caregiver are left scrambling for medication. While the court approved registered caregiver-patient sales, most patients relied on dispensaries to provide safe, lab-tested cannabis in a variety of forms and strains suitable to their specific conditions. The court’s finding that a patient enjoys immunity from prosecution regardless of how they get their medicine doesn’t have much practical value when any transferor—except their registered caregiver—does not.
Although a dispensary could operate strictly within these new McQueen confines, it will be economically impossible for most to continue this way. Patients’ other options are inadequate, and the impact will likely be grim. They cannot find caregivers, and the state refuses to assist. Even then, the cost of lawfully obtained medical cannabis is expected to skyrocket due to the inability of caregivers to consign their overages through dispensaries, prompting the certain return of a dangerous black-market trade.
So Michigan’s patients flounder. Dispensaries and clubs shutter their doors. Criminal elements move in. And we all anxiously watch the Capitol hoping for a legislative solution.
There will be the inevitable attacks from outside: the same, tired “gateway drug” PSA tripe that’s been on the inside of elementary textbooks for 30 years, and the beltway battle from industries who profit from cannabis’ illegal status. But there will also be an unfortunate amount of criticism from inside the oft-divided cannabis community; some because they wrongly perceive dispensaries as a threat to the private patient-caregiver relationship, others because they see any idea other than their own as a mutually exclusive proposition. And still others who oppose regulation of any kind. Frankly, it was naïve of anyone to think dispensaries and clubs would be allowed to flourish unchecked indefinitely.
It would be a shame to squander the one thing McQueen did give to the cannabis community—momentum—on internal bickering and an avalanche of amendments, when the patients of Michigan are urgently in need of a solution. No legislation is going to be perfect, but we need to get something on the books now. We will have plenty of time to argue over the uniform colors after we get the stadium built.