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Michigan Approves New Medical Marijuana Regulation Laws

The Michigan House has approved major changes to the state's medical marijuana program adding regulations to dispensaries and creating a tracking system for plants, and defines usable forms of medical marijuana.

House Bill 4209 was approved by overwhelming 95-11 vote and now heading to the Senate will create a new state board to license growers and distributors and mandates testing in an effort to create oversight and clear up legal uncertainty for both patients and growers allowing patients can feel safe obtaining their medicine,"

The proposal will require medical marijuana dispensaries to be taxed at 3% while patients would pay the state's regular 6% sales tax

The new law, passed by the House, helps defines what forms of marijuana are legally allowable. It also extends legal protection for patients who prefer non-smokable forms of the drug, including edibles and oils, which they claim helps their pain without getting them high. Some patients, including parents of sick kids, find the infused product more effective and healthier than smoking

Combined, the three-bill package proposes the most significant changes to Michigan's medical marijuana program since voters approved use of the drug in 2008, but it would not eliminate the current patient-caregiver system that allows for limited home growing.

But some long-time medical marijuana advocates remain unhappy with the proposed distribution system, which would create additional bureaucracy and prohibit registered caregivers from selling their excess home-grown pot to dispensaries.

"The biggest problem we're concerned about is the criminality of people involved in medical marijuana," said Matthew Abel, an attorney and executive director of Michigan NORML. "While these bills go quite far in allowing infused products and dispensaries, they freeze out of the system all the people who are currently growing. All of them."

The regulatory system would not be cheap to maintain. The House Fiscal Agency estimates the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Michigan State Police and the attorney general's office would have to employ more than 100 full-time employees to handle licensing, enforcement and prosecution related to medical marijuana.

To cover those costs, the state would require licensees to pay application fees and an annual regulatory assessment. One bill specifies the assessment for a CLASS A grower, who would be allowed to maintain 500 plants, could not exceed $10,000, but other rates are not specified.

The House approved less strenuous dispensary and edible legislation last year, but the bills were buried in the Senate when law enforcement officials raised concerns about the "uncharted course" they would forge.This time around, State Rep. Mike Callton made it a point to seek input from law enforcement groups earlier in the legislative process, and he said the looming possibility of full legalization in Michigan -- there are already two petition drives underway -- made police officials more willing to consider medical regulations.

"They saw it happen in Colorado, they saw it happen in Washington, and they said it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," Callton said."So let's create some sort of regulation and some sort of oversight that makes sense before this happens."

Still, the new-look bills face an uncertain future in the Senate, where previous proposals stalled out last year. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Rick Jones said he'll likely study the bills for a couple of weeks before taking any action, but does not expect to wait too long.

"I'm disappointed that they lowered the tax. I think that was a mistake, and we're going to revisit that," Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican and former sheriff, said earlier Wednesday before the House vote.

"I'm going to make sure that Michigan State Police, the sheriffs, the chiefs of police and the prosecutors are on board, so I may have to tighten it up a bit, but I do anticipate passing the bills."

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