Dec. 9 2015 12:16 AM

Jones amends medical marijuana bills to follow state system for alcohol

In a major shift, state Sen. Rick Jones amended legislation Tuesday to govern medical marijuana dispensaries to follow the same tiered distribution system as alcohol.

The change quickly cost the legislation the support of a major medical marijuana advocacy group.

Jones, R-Grand Ledge, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is working on legislation that has already passed the House. Jones delayed a vote today to send the three-bill package to the floor because two members had to leave early.

The three-tiered system for alcohol is a post-Prohibition era policy that is meant to keep alcohol producers from distributing and selling their own product. Under that system, suppliers sell alcohol to wholesalers, which then sell it to retailers like bars or stores, which then sell it to consumers. Jones believes it should also apply to medicine.

“When Pfizer makes medicine, they don’t go open a store and sell it,” Jones said Tuesday. “There is a clear difference between people who manufacture it and people who transport it and people who sell it.”

The National Patients Rights Association withdrew its support. “We think it’s a terrible model,” said its legislative liaison, Robiun Schneider. “Medical marijuana is a very unique product. It’s not in any way similar to a product like alcohol.”

Preventing growers from also processing or selling their medical marijuana creates barriers for patients who need specialized forms of the product, Schneider said.

“We’re better off with nothing than having a three-tiered system for medical marijuana,” she said.

Jones denied that the tiered-system amendment was pushed on him by the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association.

“They didn’t ask me to be able to distribute” medical marijuana, Jones said.

Jones, a former Eaton County sheriff, said the change was meant to address police concerns, but the wholesalers are clearly interested.

“Michigan’s local beer and wine distributors encourage legislators to regulate medical marijuana in a manner consistent with other adult, controlled products. What businesses in Michigan’s alcohol industry have found is that a tiered, licensed system is the most effective way to promote accountability, transparency, competition and safety,” Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association President Spencer Nevins told City Pulse last week.

The House version of the bill without the tiers passed in October with broad bipartisan support.

Jones hopes to move it out of committee “as soon as possible,” where it faces an uncertain fate in the full Senate.

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