It’s the same old story, but now it’s new again. Big money in Michigan has inspired a move by state lawmakers to reduce the amount of Cannabis that can be legally cultivated by medical caregivers. This, of course, is because corporate marijuana companies dislike the competition that caregivers represent. Medical caregivers were the first legal growers in Michigan, 13 years ago.
Several bills changing the 2008 voter-approved Michigan Medical Marijuana Act and caregiver program moved out of committee Tuesday. The bills are headed to the House floor, reports Michigan Advance.
Collectively known as the “Michigan Cannabis Safety Act” would limit caregivers, currently allowed to grow up to 72 plants, to 24, reports mLive. It would also reduce the amount of harvested marijuana they may possess from from 15 ounces to five.
House Bills 5300-5302 tighten rules for caregivers related to plant counts. The bills also tighten product testing and where caregivers can grow medical marijuana. The new legislation would create a new specialty medical grower (SMG) license for caregivers that includes a variety of regulations.
The House of Representatives Regulatory Reform Committee approved House Bills 5300-5302 and 5319–5321, with most passing 10-2 and a few members abstaining. The committee adopted last-minute changes to HB 5300 and 5301 before the vote. They added language allowing unlicensed caregivers to serve up to five patients from their primary residence. But unlicensed caregivers could only grow 24 marijuana plants at their home.
Under current law, medical marijuana caregivers must register with the state but don’t need a license. They can have up to five patients and grow 12 plants per patient. Caregivers can cultivate a maximum of 72 plants, if they are also a registered medical marijuana patient.
Industry Association Favors Crackdown (Of Course)
Representatives from Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association (MCMA) testified at the Oct. 5 hearing, citing supposed concerns over the safety of untested medical marijuana grown by caregivers.
Proponents claim the new laws are designed to ensure all marijuana in Michigan is tested, labeled, tracked and licensed. Others claimed concerns over multiple caregivers setting up grow operations in rural areas as well as residential neighborhoods.
The MCMA represents many of the state’s largest growers, processors and licensees. The Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency licenses all MCMA members. Guess what? The same agency would also process, approve and enforce specialty medical grower licenses and related rules.
MCMA officials have already praised the legislation. They are now encouraging the House to pass the bills as quickly as possible.
Caregivers Pushed Out By Big Marijuana?
Medical caregivers and marijuana activists say that those who spearheaded Michigan’s grassroots efforts to legalize medical and recreational weed are now being pushed out by big Cannabis. They believe the bills create excessive regulations for caregivers. Even if caregivers do apply for a specialty medical grower license, the new rules make it almost impossible to continue with only five patients.
Opponents say this effort by “big marijuana” corporations to monopolize the market will ultimately harm patients relying on caregivers for specialty, reduced-cost medicine.
Caregiver supporters argue that the MCMA fails to differentiate between caregivers who legally sell to their patients and those who illegally sell in the black market.
“There is no good reason to create any further restriction or burdens on the current caregiver system,” said Jamie Lowell, director of social responsibility at the Lansing-based Botanical Company. “There is no health or other issues warranting any prohibitive changes to caregivers … None of these amendments were a result of a reasonable process that sought input from important stakeholders.”
‘We Will Not Quit’
Ryan Bringold, a caregiver from Waterford, organized the Sept. 15 Caregiver Rights Rally at the Capitol in Lansing. He also attended the Regulatory Reform hearings in October. Bringold said caregivers have never had a seat at the table when crafting these proposed laws. He added that lawmakers have ignored caregivers’ attempts to contact them.
“We will not quit,” he told the Advance. “These big money investors, they have made a power move.”
Bringold is organizing an educational dinner for lawmakers Nov. 9 at Radisson Hotel in Lansing. He spent Tuesday afternoon hand-delivering invitations to House lawmakers. Bringold has assembled an educational team to explain the current law, along with the benefits to pediatric patients, veterans, and other chronically ill patients.
‘They Are Trying To Break An Unbroken System’
Patients say they are able to get Cannabis affordably through the current caregiver system without having to visit stores. They receive marijuana grown or processed specifically for their conditions from a trusted source, often someone they have a personal relationship with. They worry their needs won’t be met by the licensed market at a cost they can afford.
Susan Fisher, a cancer patient, spoke against the laws at a public hearing earlier this month. Fisher said she’s on a fixed income and depends on free medical marijuana she receives from her caregiver to eat and sleep.
“We, the voters, wanted the 12 plants,” Fisher said. “We voted 63% on that so it feels like they are sweeping our voices under the rug and the voices they are sweeping are those of the poor, sick and terminally ill.
“This isn’t a broken system. They are trying to break an unbroken system. They want money over helping the patient.”
‘Caregivers Fill This Void’
“To this day, caregivers continue to provide a niche service by growing and producing difficult-to-source products and offering them to patients at affordable rates,” write caregivers Krista Beller and Tom Beller at BridgeMichigan. “Specialty products like concentrated oils, tinctures and suppositories are few and far between on licensed dispensary shelves. When these medicines can be found in dispensaries, patients typically cannot afford to pay storefront prices for the quantities they need on a weekly or monthly basis. Caregivers fill this void.
“The state’s largest corporate cannabis companies – the ones who joined together to form the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association – are trying to use their high-powered lobbyists to grow their market share by changing the law to eliminate caregivers altogether,” the Bellers write. “Their proposed legislation was written entirely by their group without input from the rest of the licensed industry, or caregivers and the patients they serve. To them, creating laws that make it more difficult for caregivers to operate is good business regardless of what harm it causes to patients.”
Only One Medical Grower Per Location
The law allows only one licensed specialty medical grower to cultivate at the same location unless local ordinances “explicitly authorize” more than one SMG can grow at the site. In addition, each SMG must have a separate enclosed, locked facility with a separate entrance and metered utilities.
Republican State Reps. Jim Lilly and Richard Steenland introduced the bills. They claim the changes are about patient and consumer safety. The bills also address what caregivers can do with their overages and crack down on Michigan’s unregulated cannabis supply.
The proposed legislation allows licensed specialty medical growers to sell overages to licensed medical marijuana growers. But they cannot directly to medical marijuana provisioning centers or dispensaries.
Bills Now Move To House Floor
The bills will now move to the House floor. Since the bills alter the 2008 voter-approved Proposal 1, the legislation requires a three-quarters vote of support from both the House and Senate, as well as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature.
With Tuesday’s last-minute substitutions, the proposed bills authorize unlicensed caregivers to grow for themselves and serve five patients. But it caps the plant count at 24 if they grow at home. Caregivers who want to keep their current five patients and 12 plants per patient count would have to apply for the specialty medical grower license.
In addition, the legislation creates new rules for where “specialty medical growers” can cultivate or medical marijuana. They must move to an area that is zoned for agricultural or industrial use. (This is pretty much a “poison pill” provision,” if you haven’t noticed.)
SMGs would have to test, package, track, label and use secure transport for all medical marijuana products. It also requires the sale or transfer of medical marijuana by SMGs be entered into the state’s METRC system.