Marijuana and fish fries
A question of priorities for federal and state officials
Published: December 19, 2012
The preliminary reaction from the federal government regarding legally regulated marijuana in Colorado and Washington state seems fairly benign. During an exclusive interview with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama that aired on ABC's "20/20" on Friday evening, Barbara Walters asked him if marijuana should be legalized.
"I wouldn't go that far," Obama answered. "What I think is that at this point, in Washington and Colorado, you've seen the voters speak on this issue."
Wow! But there's more. He went on to say, "It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that's legal."
"We've got bigger fish to fry," the president added.
Observers of marijuana issues have been waiting for the federal reaction since voters in two states chose to regulate marijuana in manners similar to alcohol and tobacco in the November elections. Obama discussed finding some middle ground with conflicting state and federal laws, pointing to changes in public opinion on the issue and limited government resources.
I thought that it was telling that he said, "Congress has not yet changed the law."
Does that mean he expects Congress to address the issue? It certainly bespeaks an attitude that is not hell-bent against changing the law. Maybe we're going to have some real discussion about this at the federal level. Although results vary, most public opinion polls show about 50 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal.
We'll see how the federal fish fry goes, and it may not be a long wait. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week in Boston, "There is a tension between federal law and these state laws. I would expect the policy pronouncement that we're going to make will be done relatively soon."
In Michigan, it seems legislators willy-nilly fried all the fish last week, big and little. In a nauseating display of raw power, Republicans made this a right-to-work state, passed a new emergency manager law (even though voters had just repealed the previous one), limited abortions and expanded the places where concealed weapons could be carried. Having done all that, state legislators kept the deep-fryer cooking in the wee hours of the morning to consider modifications to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act on Friday, Dec. 14.
It was still not exactly clear what happened between Thursday, when it seemed that HB 4834 (privatizing the certification issuing process) had been defeated, and Friday morning when it passed. The same goes for HB 4851 (defining a bona fide doctor-patient relationship) which was pulled from consideration on Thursday, but reappeared at a 4 a.m. session that took outside observers by surprise. It was literally a dark-of-the-night deal.
"Nobody understands what happened," says Tim Beck, a leading proponent of the MMMA who's been involved with lobbying on the modifications. "This lame duck session is an extraordinary time. It seems they put off and put off and put off this stuff forever and then rush it all through. It's a time when some legislators' terms limits are up. They're looking to get a job in some cases and don't care about party loyalty anymore. ... There's a lot of horse-trading behind the scenes. Apparently some promises were made and deals were cut and nobody is ever going to know what happened."
The language of the bills has evolved over time and there seems to be a lot of confusion over what exactly was enacted. I read the final Senate versions of both bills in PDF form on the state website. However the House enrolled bill, which is the version passed by both houses of the Legislature in identical form, was not available as of Friday afternoon. The major points of the Senate version of HB 4834 outline the privatization of the processing and issuing MMMA registry cards. It also sets a deadline for convening a panel to consider new qualifying medical conditions.
The major points of HB 4851 define the doctor-patient relationship, reading "the physician has completed a full assessment of the patient's medical history and current medical condition, including a relevant, in-person, medical evaluation." It includes provisions that doctors create and maintain records and intend to provide follow-up care. The bill also says that patients and caregivers must present a valid state-issued photo identification card along with a medical marijuana registry card to be considered immune from arrest and prosecution. And there is language defining what comprises an "enclosed, locked facility" for growing outdoors.
Two other less controversial bills were also passed. HB 4856 says that marijuana transported in a motor vehicle must be kept in the trunk or, if there is no trunk, not readily accessible from the inside of the vehicle (whatever that means). HB 4853 changed sentencing guidelines for illegally selling medical marijuana. I repeat that I am cautious about these depictions of the new bills because I did not read final versions of what was passed.
These changes, which go into effect April 1, 2013, were met with outrage by some individuals, who registered their protests on activist websites. But David Brogren, president of Cannabis Patients United (CPU), which did significant lobbying around the language of these bills over the past two years, was not put off.
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