In Michigan, jobs are vanishing, while the projected state budget has a deficit close to $1.6 billion. Adding to the hardships by those who have their lost jobs, cars and houses, citizens are paying an additional $1.7 billion in taxes courtesy of 2007 increases. The reiteration of these facts is not sour grapes, but significant reasons to open a dialogue about the direction of the state’s new medical marijuana industry.
The state’s nascent medical marijuana program is imperfect, but it is a beginning for people whose illness is mitigated by using cannabis. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the law is the complete lack of a guaranteed supply of medical marijuana. The law has left it up to patients to purchase or grow their own. Estimates of qualified patients awaiting official state application forms are near 500, with hundreds having sought a physician’s written recommendation. At this rate, conservative estimates indicate there could be well over 5,000 official medical marijuana patients here by year’s end. Five-year estimates show upward of 50,000 patients.
By developing a plan to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, Michigan would prove to the rest of the country that it has leadership that understands the depth of the economic crisis and has the wisdom to take bold steps to put us on the road to recovery. The fact that medical marijuana is a viable defense in court means a future reduction in marijuana-related arrests, bookings, prosecutions, and so on, saving the state millions annually.
Tax-paying caregivers and dispensary owners would generate tax revenue to help trim the $1.7 billion budget gap. California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, has introduced legislation to legalize and tax marijuana in California, a state with a $42 billion deficit. This measure calls for an excise tax of $1 per half-gram joint of marijuana and would raise about $1 billion per year.
Michigan would be wise to carefully study the merits of drafting similar legislation to address the absence of a steady supply of medical marijuana to the tens of thousands of patients that will soon be registered to use it. Lawmakers could prove their willingness to lead by positioning Michigan as the first state in the Midwest to embrace medical marijuana by providing a mechanism for the adequate availability and distribution. Lawmakers could fulfill their responsibility to the over 3 million people who voted for this law.
Many people have a low opinion of California’s medical marijuana system, but if our leaders led, and developed a system that would address the concerns that make California unattractive, every Michigan citizen would benefit. Not only could legislators reverse the economic hemorrhaging by embracing medical marijuana, they may even be able to attract tax-paying people and jobs from neighboring states who need to use medical marijuana. Which direction do you think we should take from here?
Brad Forrester is a member of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association.