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High points hit in cannabis law forum with local attorneys

Local attorneys Brian Bloch, left, and Tony Ruiz talk about “Cannabis Law in a Post-Prop 1 Michigan” on Wednesday evening at Jamrich Hall on Northern Michigan University’s campus. Recreational marijuana has been a top topic of discussion at local municipality meetings as well. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Now that Michigan has legalized the use and possession of recreational marijuana to people age 21 and older, now what?

Local attorneys Brian Bloch and Tony Ruiz talked about “Cannabis Law in a Post-Prop 1 Michigan” during a Wednesday panel discussion at Jamrich Hall at Northern Michigan University. The medicinal plant chemistry seminar was open to students as well as the public.

“Though it’s great we made this step, I don’t throw up my hands and say we’ve won the Super Bowl because marijuana is a great example to point to on how democracy by market forces is not going to work,” said Bloch, who noted the anti-medical marijuana forces, for instance, have noticed prescription drug use goes down in other states, affecting their bottom line.

The battle isn’t so much won — as the state has made major headway, he said — but the type of revenue seen in states with functioning commercial markets isn’t going to happen that quickly in Michigan.

He predicts that in 2020, Republicans, Democrats, independents and others, however, will be pro-marijuana.

“Barring some sort calamity like 2016, the federal rule is going to fall and Michigan will follow, whereas Michigan should be leading and putting billions of dollars into the state’s revenues for education, roads, rehab, prisons, whatever it might be,” Bloch said. “Michigan will not function until they can get rid of that last vestige of, ‘Well, it’s not legal federally, so we shouldn’t be taking the lead on this.'”

Local communities are considering the cannabis issue.

The Marquette City Commission will hold a hearing at 6 p.m. Monday to consider an ordinance prohibiting recreational marijuana establishments in city limits.

Michigan became the first state in the Midwest and 10th in the country to legalize the use and possession of recreational marijuana to anyone 21 and older after voters approved the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act in November.

The legislation also authorizes each municipality’s right to determine whether to allow or prohibit marijuana establishments within its region.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is responsible for establishing a bureau that handles recreational marijuana regulations and licenses by 2020. The responsibilities, though, will fall on individual municipalities if LARA is unsuccessful in the process.

Many municipalities have chosen to tentatively opt out of allowing commercial marijuana establishments in their areas and wait until LARA devises a plan.

City of Marquette documents indicate administration is recommending this approach for Marquette at this time.

The Negaunee City Council also is taking a “wait-and-see” approach after approving the first reading of an ordinance Tuesday that would prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana within city limits, and set a public hearing for March.

Ruiz questioned why municipalities can’t lead the way.

“Why doesn’t Marquette take a good hard look and say, ‘Well, what works for us?’ — and be an influence on Lansing, rather than have Lansing influence us?” Ruiz asked.

He noted municipalities, having had to deal with the medical marijuana issue, already have the framework.

They also can tell the public they will change, he said, when the state comes up with rules and regulations.

“I don’t think it’s the right way to go and it’s going to take too much time,” Ruiz said.

He also stressed that commercial marijuana establishments still need to be run like businesses, with the proper time, effort and capital devoted to them.

Bloch addressed the topic of how much marijuana individuals now can legally possess.

“I’m pretty sure I can have as many cases of bourbon in my basement as I want,” he asked. “Why can I have only 10 ounces of grass?”

What he called the “Reefer Madness” propaganda has led to some people fearing detrimental effects on youths with developing brains, and that medical and recreational marijuana would turn schools into “zombie huts.”

“Marijuana has traditionally been a gateway drug because you’re buying it from a drug dealer,” Bloch said. “When you buy it from a dispensary, they don’t say, ‘Hey, you want a little blow with that?'”

Regarding what students and others can do to influence policy, Bloch said they should “amplify their voices.”

Ruiz agreed, and suggested people attend commission meetings and write letters.

“Let your voice be heard,” Ruiz said. “It’s out of fear, but I think they’re using that as an excuse.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.

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