Dec. 7 2015 07:33 AM

Marijuana advocates concerned alcohol lobby will derail dispensary bills

MONDAY, DEC. 7 — Some key advocates are threatening to withdraw support for a proposal to regulate the growing, distribution and sale of medical marijuana statewide amid attempts by the alcohol industry to influence the legislation.

On Friday, an official with the trade association representing beer and wine wholesalers said the group is interested in amending legislation to mirror the tiered system for distributing alcohol. The three Republican-backed bills, which are scheduled for a Senate hearing tomorrow, passed the House in October with wide support.

“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 said in a statement provided to City Pulse.

The group did not elaborate further on its plans.

Its website says the following:

“There are three tiers involved in the movement of alcoholic beverages from the manufacturer to the consumer. First, the suppliers manufacture or import the alcoholic beverage. Then, the supplier sells the alcohol to a wholesaler. The wholesaler then sells alcohol to retailers (bars, stores, etc) who will resell to the consumers."

But Robin Schneider, legislative liaison for the National Patients Rights Association, said the beer and wine wholesalers’ demands would drastically reshape the proposed regulations. Her organization is a significant ally for medical marijuana supporters at the Capitol.

Schneider believes the two industries — medical marijuana and alcohol — shouldn’t be aligned under the same type of regulation.

“We won’t support the bills if they get what they’re looking for,” Schneider said. “We don’t think the alcohol or recreational use model is right for medical marijuana. Our next step would be making sure it doesn’t pass.”

State Sen. Rick Jones, a former Eaton County sheriff and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, strongly supports a system to tax and regulate the commercial growing, distributing and selling of medical marijuana at licensed dispensaries.

Jones said concerns he’s heard among medical marijuana advocates that amendments in the Senate would lead to a “monopoly” over who could participate in the system — particularly through costly barriers to entry — are unfounded.

“Marijuana supporters had a big fear that some conglomerates or wealthy companies would come in and take over this whole thing,” Jones said.

He added that the proposal “has got nothing to do with beer and wine” and hadn’t heard as of Monday morning that beer and wine wholesalers were interested in amending the bills. Jones said he wasn’t aware that the wholesalers viewed the two products — alcohol and medical marijuana — as similar.

Jones said he doesn’t anticipate major changes to the legislation in committee.

He wants to have a full Senate vote on the three bills — HB 4209, 4210 and 4827 — this month. As part of the plan, local units of government could license and regulate dispensaries and commercial growing operations if they choose.

Any changes in the Senate would be sent back to the House for approval before heading to Gov. Rick Snyder. See here for more on the proposal.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. tomorrow in Lansing.