Jan. 3 2019 11:00 AM

Robin Schneider, Advocate for marijuana

Robin Schneider, 40, has served as the director of the National Patient Rights Association, chairwoman of the Lansing Medical Marijuana Business Association, board member at the Capitol City Compassion Club and most recently as the finance director for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Her fundraising efforts helped to champion the recent ballot initiative and subsequent legalization of recreational marijuana in Michigan. She’s committed to protecting fundamental rights of entrepreneurs in the industry and patients who need continued access to medicinal bud — both in Lansing and throughout the state.

— KYLE KAMINSKI

Why get involved with the medical marijuana industry? Where does that passion come from?

I had a parent that was incarcerated for marijuana use. That is an experience that deeply changes your life and has affected my entire family. It’s multi-generational damage. I think growing up and thinking that all of this happened because of cannabis — it just didn’t make sense to me. And so, at a very young age I joined the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law and became an activist for drug policy reform.

Did it take a while to push back against social stigmas surrounding marijuana? What was that like?

Early on, when we were advocating for legislation that would legalize marijuana businesses and products, our message was not well received. Legislators were just uncomfortable with the conversation because it had been illegal for so long. It was just an uncomfortable topic for them to even discuss, so they didn’t want to do it.

I think what changed the hearts and minds of the Michigan legislature was the medical side of the industry and when patients advocated on that end. Pediatric mothers of children with seizure disorders, cancer patients, HIV patients. There was a massive, statewide effort to get the patients to their respective legislators to tell their stories.

Do you think there is still a “Reefer Madness” mentality out there in the community?

There’s still some stigma. I think the war is clearly over in Michigan, but the work is still not done. For instance, I’m looking forward to helping our community restore its relations with law enforcement. That’s going to take time. My community spent years being raided, arrested and incarcerated. They’re still afraid of law enforcement.

What do you think about the way the medical marijuana licensing system has been working?

The program did not get off to a great start. The licensing process is much slower than it needs to be, and it’s hurting patient access to all the wonderful forms of medicine that should be available right now. I think the key problem with the existing program is the politically appointed Medical Marihuana Licensing Board.

That board is doling out licenses, picking and choosing the winners. That’s an inappropriate task for a politically appointed body. They’re making arbitrary and capricious licenses denials for very made-up reasons. The appeals process is there, but it’s very clear to me that the board is hurting the integrity of the program.

There are some good board members, but there are a particular few that pose some real and righteous concerns. That’s why we didn’t think a licensing board would be appropriate on the recreational side of the industry.

We’re talking about former lobbyists with connections to people who received the first licenses. I have a lot of concerns about transparency, and I’m looking forward to our new governor and attorney general taking a robust look at the situation. They have the ability to take the necessary measures to clean up the board and the program.

So marijuana has been legalized, but this doesn’t mean you’ll be off to an early retirement.

The industry is just a baby right now, and there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done to make sure that we get through the licensing obstacles with unfairly denied applicants. We need to make sure they have their due process and ensure that there’s enough of a product supply to support the market. We have to fix a lot of issues.

This is still a new, emerging industry. Everybody’s learning the rules and regulations and best business practices. Considering all of the remaining issues, I’d say we’re 60 percent of the way there. The war is over but we still have to clean up the mess. I’m looking forward to some new state leadership to help us clean that up as well.

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