LANSING, MI — A bill that would allow pharmacies in Michigan to stock “pharmaceutical grade” medical marijuana passed the Senate Wednesday by a 22-16 vote.
Introduced by Republican state Senator Roger Kahn and co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, Senate Bill 660 would, if passed, reclassify medical marijuana to a Schedule II drug in the state, controlled in a manner similar to drugs such as OxyContin or Percocet.
It would also license facilities to grow the new “pharmaceutical grade” marijuana and distribute it through authorized pharmacies, such as Walgreens or CVS, and require strict laboratory testing for quality and dosage standards.
“Marijuana, if it’s to be medical marijuana, should be held to the standard of medical safety and of dosage predictability,” said Sen. Kahn at hearings earlier this month.
Even if passed at the state level, the proposal would require federal approval to implement. Marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule I drug, and it would need to be federally rescheduled to Schedule II for the proposed law to take effect.
The bill was supported in committee last week by Chuck Perricone, who represents Prairie Plant Systems, a Canadian company that grows and sells pharmaceutical cannabis.
Some lawmakers in opposition to the pending bill say that legislators should focus on fixing Michigan’s medical marijuana program, which has seen dispensaries come and go, while operating in a grey area of legal limbo.
“Why are we spending taxpayer time and resources for an out-of-state corporate constituent who may or may not come to the state,” said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing). “And we’re not doing squat for anything to help current constituents who cannot access medical marijuana.”
The proposal would not change the state’s current medical marijuana program, instead it would supplement it as a separate, stand-alone industry, but some colleagues in the legislature see this as an opportunity to replace the state’s medical marijuana program.
Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) said he hopes the bill will begin the process of getting marijuana cultivation out of homes and into the hands of pharmaceutical companies, vocalizing the fears of many within the medical marijuana community.
“It’s time to get marijuana out of houses and put it somewhere else,” Sen. Jones said. “Let the pharmaceutical companies grow it and sell it in pharmacies.”
Additional legislation would be needed to eliminate the current medical marijuana program in the state.
Patients and caregivers enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program, enacted by voters in 2008, would still be allowed to grow and possess medical marijuana under current state law.
Those patients who would prefer the “pharmaceutical grade” medical marijuana in Sen. Kahn’s proposal would have to surrender their medical marijuana cards and would no longer be allowed to grow their own medical marijuana.
Under the proposed system of “pharmaceutical grade” medical marijuana, the Michigan Department of Community Health would be responsible for licensing, registering and inspecting facilities growing or manufacturing medical marijuana.
Anyone wishing to manufacture, distribute, prescribe or dispense marijuana would have to obtain a license from the Michigan Board of Pharmacy, as is currently required for other Schedule II controlled substances.
An attempt to add an amendment to the bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for non-medical purposes was introduced by Sen. Whitmer, but the amendment failed on a 22-10 vote.
The bill now advances to the House for consideration. It has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, where it awaits scheduling for a public hearing.
The bill has advanced quickly since being first introduced on October 31.