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From the Daily: Privatize pot

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published February 11, 2010

Thanks to a ballot initiative passed by Michigan voters, medical marijuana has been legal in the state for over a year. Unfortunately, the law’s spotty legal framework fails to clearly lay out how the drug can be grown, obtained and used, which has led to confusion and battles about law enforcement. But there have been recent efforts to clarify the law. Legislation now before the state Senate could make the marijuana industry government-owned. But the state’s economy could benefit from a private medical marijuana industry. A more appropriate way to manage medical marijuana would be to clarify current laws so that a private medicinal marijuana industry can thrive in Michigan.

In November 2008, Michigan’s voters passed a ballot initiative called the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. The act legalized the growth, sale and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in the state. The act permits patients with diseases such as glaucoma and cancer to request a prescription for marijuana as a painkiller. But the act’s loose guidelines have resulted in groundless arrests and battles to limit growing around the state. To clarify the law, Michigan Senators Gerald Van Woerkom and Wayne Kuipers, both Republicans from Holland, have proposed a bill that would make marijuana distribution a government-run business. If the bill passes, the state of Michigan will allow for a limited number of facilities where medical marijuana can be grown and regulate where the drug can be sold.

Michigan voters made progress by legalizing medical marijuana, but as is the case with ballot initiatives, which are too short to include specific language, the complexities of this policy weren’t appropriately outlined. Patients seeking to use marijuana shouldn’t have to face obstacles while acquiring a legalized medicine. The state should create legislation that specifies how to legally grow and purchase medical marijuana and clear any stumbling block to acquiring a prescription.

The Senate legislation isn’t the worst attempt to make medical marijuana use practical. Arguably, the existence of a public option for marijuana could help some patients. Many patients may feel more comfortable purchasing marijuana from a government-sponsored warehouse because much of this legal drug’s market is still underground.

But a government monopoly over medical marijuana isn’t the best solution to the problems caused by the vague ballot initiative. Michigan has the opportunity to benefit from new private industries in this area. California has already embraced the privatized industry of medicinal marijuana. And although it grew more rapidly than expected, it has allowed patients to successfully acquire the drug from one of the state’s ample dispensaries. California’s poor economic situation is similar to that of Michigan and the significant returns seen from this industry’s taxation could be a useful stimulus here.

Opponents of the law fear that putting marijuana in the hands of more caregivers and dispensaries would result in more marijuana on the market and increase recreational use of marijuana. But this consequence isn’t nearly as important as facilitating medical marijuana distribution for patients who need the drug. And, if it were legalized, recreational marijuana could generate impressive tax revenue beyond medical marijuana.

In a state where revenue is scarce, it is important for Michigan to adjust its policies to establish a private marijuana industry to help both patients and distributors.