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House committee to host hearings on medical marijuana bills

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Lawmakers are to hear today from a string of speakers with concerns about four bills to change Michigan’s law allowing medical pot.

At hearings of the House Judiciary Committee, lawmakers are to hear comments from key groups, including associations of patients, compassion clubs, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Michigan State Medical Society and Michigan State Police, according to a roster assembled Wednesday by the office of state Sen. John Walsh, R-Livonia, chairman of the committee.

At second hearing March 8, “we’ll hear from individuals — anyone who wants to speak,” Walsh said last week.

“The fear is, we’re going to gut the medical marijuana act. That never was our intention,” Walsh said. “We’re just trying to make it a better law for everybody — patients, caregivers, law enforcement, our zoning administrators and doctors.”

House Bill 4834 aims to speed up issuance of ID cards for patients and caregivers, and it would give police access to the registry — an invitation to drug busts, say some defense lawyers.

HB 4851 would require more careful exams from doctors who certify patients and clarify what is an allowed spot for growing pot.

HB 4853 would clarify sentencing guidelines for violations of the state medical marijuana act. HB 4856 would make transporting medical marijuana similar to transporting a gun and would make it illegal to operate a vehicle, plane or motorboat while under the influence of marijuana.

Although Republicans typically oppose wider access to medical marijuana, with Democrats split on the issue, the bills will need bipartisan support because they must pass with three-quarter super majorities — required to revise any constitutional amendment such as the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, passed by state voters in 2008.

One committee member — state Rep. Phil Cavanagh, D-Redford Township — is sponsor of the bill that would require a good-faith relationship between doctor and patient before someone could be approved for medical marijuana use.

Cavanagh said months of research showed him that medical marijuana could take the place of prescription painkillers that have harmful side effects.

“I have real concerns that medical marijuana patients aren’t pushed toward unwanted prosecution or harassment,” he said. Cavanagh’s amendment, added at last week’s hearing — to let medical marijuana users who are being charged with a crime declare their health status in court — passed 15-0, he said.

The Southfield-based, 26,000-member Michigan Medical Marijuana Association is leery of all four bills, said the group’s attorney, Michael Komorn, who is to speak today.

“None of these bills address ways to protect patients or caregivers from arrest and prosecution,” Komorn said.

But Tim Beck, co-founder of Coalition for a Safer Detroit — which favors limited legalization of pot — said he attended last week’s hearing and feels that the bills “will clarify problematic areas in the current law.”

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