Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette came out swinging against medical marijuana a couple of weeks ago when he held a press conference to announce what could well be called his "Swiss cheese offensive." Surrounded by a group of legislators, law enforcement officers and health care professionals, Schuette said that the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act had been "hijacked" by drug dealers and profiteers, and that the law has "as many holes as Swiss cheese."
Rep. John Walsh (R-Livonia) repeated the allusion in saying that there is an eight-bill package in the state Legislature that will "define and fill in those holes in that Swiss cheese."
I bet they don't malign Swiss cheese like that when they order a ham on rye sandwich at the local deli. The bottom line is that Schuette was against the MMMA before it was enacted and he's against it now that it's law.
John Sinclair discussed many of these pending bills in last week's column, so I won't go into details. However, since the MMMA is a fact of law, Schuette and his cohorts intend to define it so narrowly that you practically have to have a foot in the grave to qualify for relief. In his press conference, Schuette opined that the law was designed, packaged and sold with the intent that medical marijuana would be for people with "terminal illness" and to manage "pain at the end of life" but that the bill has been "hijacked by pot profiteers."
Schuette and company railed against dispensaries as dangerous to children, sounded the alarm about driving while stoned and threatened doctors who they say don't have a true relationship with patients they give recommendations to. Although they made big deals out of a few examples of people running afoul of the law, the speeches seemed to be much bigger on platitudes and arguments against the character of people involved in medical marijuana than on pertinent facts. It seemed like another scare-people-out-of-their-socks tactic from the drug war playbook.
Actually all of those things are concerns that many of the state's medical marijuana organizations have expressed and taken steps to address. However, rather than try to work with forces within the community to regulate the industry in a cooperative manner, Schuette has chosen a cheesy attitude.
"Whenever Bill Schuette scares people, it makes it easier for me to do my job," says Rick Thompson, editor of Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine. "Whenever he's in the newspaper, people start calling me to know about the changes to the law. We have a ton of people who seek our advice. All of our compassion centers around the state take a lot of calls when he's in the paper like that."
Thompson defines his job as selling the magazine, organizing activists and educating the public.
Despite the efforts of Thompson and other activists, lately the legal tide seems to be flowing against medical marijuana in Michigan. Legislators are coming out against it. Walsh mentioned that there may be a few more bills added to the package so we don't know the entirety of what will be coming down this fall. Recently, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Wendy Baxter dismissed a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against a Livonia law banning medical marijuana. In another case, 70-year-old Barb Agro, a card-carrying medical marijuana patient, was found guilty of growing marijuana in Oakland County Circuit Court. In Agro's and other Oakland County cases, judges have ruled that defendants cannot use the MMMA as a defense when they face marijuana-related charges because of technical violations of the law.
Medical marijuana supporters are feeling the pressure and pushing back. There is a rally in support of the MMMA scheduled to take place on the front steps of the state Capitol at noon Sept. 7. Organizers say it's going to be the biggest rally yet, because all of the statewide and some national organizations have signed on to participate. In the past, there has been bickering between some organizations regarding focus and tactics, but everyone seems to be on board for this one.
"Finally we're closing ranks, everybody is getting together," says Tim Beck, political director for the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers. "The community is coming together. The prospect of execution has a way of clearing one's mind."
Plans for the rally include an airplane flying over the area with a banner message for Schuette. Thompson says that the Teamsters union (which represents some medical marijuana compassion center workers) will send a busload of supporters to the rally.
"We are trying to inform legislators that the citizenry does not support changes to the law," Thompson says. "It's significant that Schuette surrounded himself with law enforcement and prosecutors. Those are the people who are pushing changes to the medical marijuana law, not the patients."
It could be a very interesting day in Lansing. In addition to the MMMA supporters, the controversial Koran-burning Rev. Terry Jones, who has a court appearance scheduled in Detroit on Sept. 8, also has a rally scheduled on the back steps of the state Capitol on Sept. 7. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is planning a counter-Jones peace rally for the day. There could be a lot of media around, possibly national, to carry a message far and wide.
Could there be an epic comedy of errors in Lansing? Terry Jones burns a Koran. The police smell the smoke and use it as an excuse to arrest the entire crowd of medical marijuana supporters. Then Bernero decides to free demonstrators if they agree to be deputized to control the Jones crowd.
It's far-fetched, but these are volatile times. Anything could happen.
The legal challenge brought by the Coalition for a Safer Detroit against the Detroit Election Commission moved along recently with final oral arguments to the state appeals court. In a nutshell, the CSD is the organization behind the petition drive to put on the ballot the decriminalization of possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana by an adult on private property in Detroit. The Election Commission refused to put the question on last year's ballot, claiming the proposal ran counter to state law. CSD challenged the Election Commission. A lower court sided with the commission against the CSD appeal. On Aug. 10, the final stage of oral arguments in the appeal took place before Judges Henry Saad, Elizabeth Gleicher and Jane Markey. They could rule on the case at any time now.
The basic question is whether a municipality can have a statute that runs counter to state law. If the court rules that it can't, there are implications across the state for municipalities that already have them. For instance, Detroit has a needle exchange program on the books (although it's unfunded and not operational) that is illegal under state law.
"One way or the other, the implications are stunning," says Tim Beck, who is also part of the CSD. "This is turning out to be a bigger deal than I ever thought."
If the court rules for the CSD, Detroiters could see it on the ballot as soon as this November. That is, if the state allows the proposed city charter to be voted on in this election cycle. That is questionable because the governor and attorney general have objections to several provisions in the proposed charter.