LANSING, MI — Michigan would create a tiered system for medical marijuana growers, distributors and retailers under evolving legislation up for a likely vote Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said Monday medical pot bills approved by the House earlier this year will be amended in his committee to prevent an owner from being licensed to operate multiple types of medical marijuana businesses.
The state regulates alcohol in a similar, three-tiered fashion.
"Everything I've designed here is to make sure we don't have monopolies" Jones said. "If we have a monopoly, then obviously they'll have monopoly prices, so I would think everyone would be on board with a system where people have different choices."
But the pending amendment is drawing fire from patient advocates, who argue that treating medical marijuana like alcohol will ultimately benefit established distributors, middle men who could drive up prices.
"If you were to grow medical marijuana, you wouldn't be able to have ownership in a retail or provisioning center, which paves the way for a distributor," said Robin Schneider, legislative liaison for the National Patients Rights Association.
She argued that a "vertically integrated" company would be able to produce more affordable products for patients.
The NPRA has worked with lawmakers on medical marijuana legislation for years and generally supported the bills that passed out of the House, but Schneider fears the dispensary bill is being expanded to anticipate eventual legalization of recreational use.
Her group will oppose the Senate legislation if it creates a tiered system similar to alcohol.
"It's really bad for patients," she said. "It's unfortunate. We were really hoping we could reach some sort of settlement or compromise."
House Bill 4209, which won bipartisan support in the lower chamber, would create a system to regulate and tax medical marijuana dispensaries in communities that decide to allow them. The state would also license large-scale growers, processors, distributors and testing facilities.
Patients and caregivers would be allowed to grow a limited number of plants at home, as authorized under the state's 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law, but they would be prohibited from selling any "overages" to dispensaries.
HB 4210 would allow and regulate medical marijuana edibles and other non-smokable forms of the drug, while HB 4827 would create a seed-to-sale tracking system for marijuana plants and processed products.
Dispensary legislation passed out of the House last year, but law enforcement groups trashed the package in the Senate, effectively killing it during the 2014 lame-duck session.
Sponsoring Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, worked more closely with law enforcement groups as he re-introduced his dispensary bill this session. Jones, a former sheriff, took the reigns in the Senate. He hopes that committee amendments will at least move police and prosecutors from opposed to neutral, which he would consider a win.
Additional licensing restrictions were requested by the law enforcement community, according to Jones, who dismissed "rumors" that the Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association had pushed for a tiered medical marijuana system.
"Unless I get law enforcement on board, I believe the package is dead in the Senate," he said.
Jones expects "literally hours of testimony" on the bills during committee on Tuesday, but he does not intend to draw the process out any longer than that.
If the votes are there for passage, the Senate Judiciary Committee will advance the bill Tuesday. If not, Jones said he'll probably ask Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof to discharge the legislation for floor consideration in the next two weeks.
"I have made many promises to many different groups that I would do everything possible to pass this package of bills out this year, and that's what I intend to do," he said.