State Rep. Jeff Irwin recently made Cannabis Business Executive's list of "100 Political Influencers in Cannabis."
It's no surprise; Irwin has been the biggest cannabis supporter in our state legislature. Over the years, the Ann Arbor Democrat has introduced or supported various decriminalization or legalization bills in Lansing. And he's consistently spoken up about marijuana legalization at the annual Hash Bash. Irwin doesn't seem to care much one way or the other about being named as a political influencer on the subject.
"It's great to be recognized for your work, but really I'm just doing my job," he says. "I'm trying to improve the effectiveness of what we're doing because the drug war is such an abysmal failure. I don't really feel buoyed by the recognition. All I've been doing is speaking out on it. We haven't really done much of anything to curb the drug war here in Michigan. People are still getting raided and having their lives turned upside down."
He's right. Despite passing the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act in 2008 and with numerous municipalities voting for decriminalization — most of the state's largest cities — the state legislature and law enforcement have stonewalled on allowing any reasonable distribution system and fought in the courts against anything but the strictest interpretations of the law.
The state police have pressured crime labs to classify THC found in edible products as being from an unknown source so that patients who legally possess them can be prosecuted. Attorney General Bill Schuette has been an ongoing adversary who has gone so far as to threaten to prosecute law enforcement officers for distribution if they return confiscated marijuana to patients who legally possess it. The state's Child Protective Services has taken children out of the homes of parents who are certified medical marijuana patients.
All of this shows that while the majority of Michigan voters support legalization of marijuana — 53 percent in a recent EPIC-MRA poll — nothing is coming from the state legislature to support that. The Republican-dominated legislature even passed a bill earlier this year that kept a MILegalize petition initiative for recreational use of the plant off the ballot this year despite the fact that support for legalization grows 2 or 3 percent each year. MILegaize has filed suit, although it seems the clock is running out on making the ballot this year.
"I think it's going to make it on the ballot this year or very soon, and we'll see the end of prohibition in Michigan before too long," Irwin says. "It's quickly changing in the polls and within a couple of years we'll be at that magic number for people who support it ... I think it's going to be solved at the ballot box, not [in the] legislature — look at how they're choking on the medical marijuana system."
In the meantime, although voters of many stripes support legalization, it's mainly Democratic legislators who are pushing the envelope. The 2016 national platforms of the major political parties show a sharp contrast.
"The Democratic platform and Republican platform are a good indication of where the parties are on this issue," Irwin says.
The Republican Party chose not to address it in its platform this year. It does recognize that in some places marijuana is "virtually legalized despite its illegality under federal law." Then it goes on to lump it with a rise in heroin addiction, and warns that government needs to "prepare to deal with the problematic consequences."
The Democratic platform — pushed to the left by Bernie Sanders, who called for legalization in his campaign — calls for a rescheduling of marijuana by the Drug Enforcement Administration and appropriate regulation "providing a reasoned pathway to future legalization."
The Green and Libertarian Party platforms don't mention it, although candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson both support legalization, but it's doubtful either will be occupying the White House next year.
"It's become partisan among the power brokers," says Tim Beck, who was a leader in getting Michigan's medical marijuana law passed. "Even in Lansing, you don't hear a peep out of them (Republicans) about cannabis. I've never seen a more stark contrast."
Back then, Beck was an unabashedly Republican Detroiter. Since then, he's moved to the west side of Michigan and has less allegiance to the GOP.
"There is a difference between Democrats and Republicans on this issue," he says. "I don't consider myself Republican anymore; this Trump thing is too much over the top. I'm GOP-oriented. I wish they'd straighten out."
Some recent polling has showed that although it's not a majority, support for legalization has risen among Republicans. A July YouGov study found that Republicans support legalization by a margin of 45 to 42 percent; Democrats support it 63 to 25 percent.
The strongest support for cannabis law reform among Republicans tends to come from tea party-oriented types who don't necessarily care about the substance. Their analysis is more that the drug war is expensive and ineffective. After billions of dollars have been spent to fight it, marijuana is more popular than ever. National polls show support for recreational legalization at over 60 percent.
Marijuana legalization in Michigan is unquestionably a partisan issue.
"I must be honest," Irwin says. "Over the course of history and even to this day, the members of our legislature who support legalization, those people have all been Democrats — me, Coleman Young II, Perry Bullard. The folks who have been leading this effort are folks who have been on the left side of the political spectrum. Conservatives are now coming around to the idea that the War on Drugs is the granddaddy of all big government programs."
In a year when partisan politics may have reached their most acute divisions, it's clear that any significant change on this issue is coming from the Democrat side. I'm not one to encourage people to vote for politicians based on one issue. But it certainly can be among those that sway your vote.
Even so, I believe that in Michigan, the big change will come from a citizen initiative. If that comes during the next gubernatorial election — when anti-drug warrior Schuette is expected to make a run — the contradictions will indeed be heightened.
Cannabis on display
This year's Oregon State Fair will have an added attraction this year that reflects the legality of another sort of prize-winning crop: cannabis. Plants will be on display at the Aug. 26-Sept. 5 celebration.
Cannabis won't be mixed in among the rest of the produce. The nine plants will be in a greenhouse with its own entrance and exit, only those 21 and over will be allowed to enter, and security guards will monitor the area. The plants will be judged on aroma, appearance, and how they're trimmed. The plants will be immature, without any buds on them, so I'm not sure how the aroma judging will take place. The flower tops of the plant are the most aromatic, and potent, component. Apparently, they're not taking their categories from the list used by the High Times Cannabis Cup folks. The Cannabis Cup competition has categories such as best concentrate, best flower, and best edible. They judge the sativas, indicas, and hybrids separately, as well as the CBD products.
One downer here: There will be no cannabis available to consume.