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Activists concerned about changes to medical marijuana bills

Marijuana plant
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 2008.

State lawmakers are considering taxing and tracking medical marijuana in Michigan.

Bill sponsors are expected to tack those and other changes onto bills that would create new protections for dispensaries and patients who use non-smokable forms of cannabis.

A state House panel on Tuesday also took up a new bill that would track cannabis from seed to sale.

Some marijuana activists say those changes would create a significant burden on patients and caregivers.

“I think we need to be cognizant that the more regulation and cost that we blanket the system with, we’re actually driving people into the illegal market,” said state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor).

“One of the things I’m really concerned about is they’re talking about adding taxes to the medicine, then they’re talking about adding a middle man with a distribution company,” he said. “Now they’re talking about adding a tracking system. When you add all of that up, I just think it’s providing too great of an advantage to the illegal market.”

But supporters of the changes say new regulations are needed to ensure public safety.

“We can’t just have it be a free-for-all Wild Wild West,” said state Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Twp). “Those people who want it as a free-for-all Wild Wild West are calling it an industry, but they don’t want to have industry compliance and regulation.”

Marijuana activists who have been most directly involved in negotiations behind the scenes in recent years say they do not support taxing marijuana or any type of medicine. But they say they’re willing to compromise on that point in order to attain the new protections for patients and caregivers.

And they say many of the changes will not directly affect patients.

“This is a regulatory framework for a new commercial industry and it’s not something that will affect patients and caregivers who are meeting their medical needs in their homes,” said Robin Schneider with the National Patients’ Rights Association.

Kesto says the state could also use the proposed legal framework to regulate recreational marijuana. That’s if voters choose to legalize pot in 2016.

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