Former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, to the surprise of some of us here at the Hits, kind of tiptoed his way across the dividing line in Michigan's marijuana legalization debate and entered the land of compassion during a Jan. 27 speech at Wayne State University.
Unlike our current attorney general, Cox voiced a willingness to accept the will of voters, arguing that law-abiding medical marijuana patients and the suppliers of their medicine shouldn't have to live in fear of some narc squad busting in on them at any moment to haul their asses away.
Cox, who also once worked in the Wayne County prosecutor's office, delivered the keynote speech at the Wayne Law Review's annual symposium, an event intended to facilitate open discussion about relevant legal issues.
And in the view of the heads we here at the Hits occasionally hang with, there is almost nothing more relevant right now than the pot legalization debate that's starting to rev up here in Michigan.
So let us start by giving some mild props to Cox — something we rarely had cause to do when he was still AG. But, unlike former Prez Bill Clinton at his weaseliest, Cox at least had the balls to admit that he actually inhaled back in day.
"The reality is, most people don't smoke weed and beat their wife," he says. "But, there are a lot of practical problems with [legalization] and we shouldn't ignore that."
Which is why he says he won't support the current push in Michigan to amend the state constitution.
In 2008, when Cox still held office, the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act was passed with an overwhelming 63 percent support from voters. His successor, Bill "Darth" Schuette, has launched what seems like a personal vendetta against medical marijuana patients and dispensaries, ensuring those who benefit from the medicinal purposes of pot remain fearful to do so.
Since Schuette took office last year, the language of the legislation has been scrutinized and torn apart to the point where no one's exactly sure how to properly enforce it — which Cox says is his main concern.
"Here in Michigan, we have very little honest dialogue about marijuana," he said before delivering a rambling anecdote, admitting as a high school student he smoked pot while listening to Frampton Comes Alive. "If it becomes legal, I don't think I'll ever use it again. That being said, philosophically I am not against it." But problems, like regulating driving under the influence, make legalization impractical in his view.
Cox, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate, wouldn't directly criticize Schuette during the 45-minute speech. But he reiterated that the Michigan Legislature needs to step up to the plate and begin clarifying the broad language of the messy three-year-old law.
He actually argued that the Legislature should legalize dispensaries and could use beer-and-wine distributors as weed outlets. Also, he suggested the idea of creating a registry police could access before they start kicking in a door, although he recognizes that might cause alarm for some.
"The drug laws are not exactly indefensible because nothing really is," he says. "I think it's a lot more productive for the Legislature to address this issue. ... The police just want to know what the rules are."
Although his speech was politically safe, his comments went over well with the audience, in particular the call to legalize dispensaries.
"I think it satisfies the larger political debate," says Paul Tylenda, an attorney out of Grosse Pointe Park, adding he felt Cox delivered a good argument as someone who opposes federal government intervention.
Cox says the political divide in Lansing right now is due to a number of issues, one being liberals and conservatives have different ideas of personal freedom.
"Liberals don't see the same attack on freedom with Obamacare," he says. "It's hard to say there's clean hands on either side of the debate."
Cox was one of 13 state attorneys general who filed a lawsuit in March 2010 against the federal government challenging the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
The underlying theme of each event throughout the day was a hope that the ambiguous law would be clarified this year.
"I'm confident legislation will clean it up," Cox told News Hits. "I mean, part of it is there's a lot of court cases now and I know a lot of judges want some more direction from the legislature. So, I expect the legislature will [do it] this year."
Another solution was offered during the second panel of the day from Matt Abel, a Detroit-based attorney. Abel, whom News Hits wrote about last month, is leading the aforementioned campaign attempting to end prohibition of the drug in Michigan.
He cheerfully delivered a 20-minute speech, pitching the amendment proposal to the audience, which hooted its approval and applauded wildly.
"The more wrong things [the Legislature] does; the more volunteers we'll get," Abel says.
After the apparently pot-friendly crowd listened to former Obama administration drug adviser Kevin Sabet's speech — where he pointed out there's no accepted medical use of marijuana and focused on discussing the harmful effects of the drug — it was easy to see why Abel went over so well.
A question-and-answer session with the crowd followed the conclusion of each panel member's speeches. Sabet — who says he doesn't support legalization — received vehement criticism from numerous audience members for his remarks.
Abel, who missed Cox's speech due to earlier commitments, told News Hits the former attorney general's speech sounded reasonable based on what he heard: "Certainly more reasonable than our current attorney general.
"We're hoping we'll get it on the ballot and we'll win and repeal prohibition for adults 21 and over," Abel says. "But, in the meantime, it's going to help us organize both regionally and locally on a county-by-county basis so that we can begin to target prosecutors and sheriffs who are abusing patients under the guise of the medical marijuana law."
The Wayne Law Review suspiciously had complimentary brownies and cookies for guests to munch on at the conclusion of the day's events. Based on News Hits taste test, we can confirm they weren't pot-special treats.