The Michigan House of Representatives has been taking input from parties interested in adjusting the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMA) for months now. Thursday brought the first hearing on the subject, and 100 people filled both the House chamber and an overflow room during a Judiciary Committee meeting. Most of the observers were patients, but none were allowed to speak--and some voices may never be heard from. This is intentional and is the responsibility of Republican Committee Chairman John Walsh.
The problems arise from the nature of this input and the nature of the Committee hearings themselves. During the work group, input was solicited from the Michigan State Police, the Prosecuting Attorney's Association and other regulatory agencies. Their opinions were considered and their words caused change in the language of these bills. There was no similar input from patient rights organizations, no testimony from the sick and disabled during these formative times, and the remaining bills are cold, callous, unnecessary and unworkable. Rep. Walsh's chosen format for the committee hearings is similarly patient unfriendly, confusing and limits dialogue between voters and their elected officials.
The history of these bills is important to note. A package of eight bills originally presented by Walsh and sponsored by several representatives was introduced in 2011 and a workgroup was formed to handle them. The workgroup has taken testimony from the people they consider to be interested parties and made modifications. Some of these bills were unnecessary--according to Reps. Horn and Cavanagh--and have since been dropped. The remaining four bills have been modified by Thursday's committee vote and are up for several weeks of consideration by the Judiciary before being put to a vote.
But it's not really four weeks of citizen testimony. The first week of testimony was actually less than two hours long and included not one citizen's voice. Ken Stecker of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM) gave an hour-long presentation about current court cases, decisions made and decisions pending. For less than an hour afterward the committee spoke to Reps. Horn and Cavanagh before voting to adopt changes to the bills and then concluding the hearing. Those 100 people left the building without a single word being uttered on the record. Next week's hearing, we are told, will also not feature input from citizens but will be filled with reports from the people the committee has already heard from, including governmental agencies like the Michigan State Police.
So where does that leave the average citizen and their opportunity to participate in government? Crammed into the last two weeks of testimony? Or, if Thursday's two-hour experience is any guide, into the last four hours of committee time? If every one of those 100 people wanted to address the committee (and there are many more that do) they would be given a mere two and a half minutes to speak their peace. That's not much time to discuss a single House Bill, and there are four of them.
But they aren't really four bills. In fact, one Bill, HB 4851, is actually four bills wrapped into one. Each bill is designed to communicate a single idea, a unique change to the MMA or associated laws, and any debate on that bill is considered a debate on that single idea. HB 4851 started out life as an attempt to make the bona fide doctor-patient relationship mentioned in the MMA more defined and in line with traditional ideas of medicine. The version of HB 4851 adopted for consideration by the committee contains new plans for four different aspects of the MMA; it also seeks to define a locked and enclosed facility, it expands the number of ways caregivers can be denied a license, and it includes a half-hearted effort to ensure the Section 8 Defense is not disallowed by prosecutors in criminal trials.
Consider that any committee that allows public testimony on any bill gives citizens about five minutes to speak their peace on the topic at hand. If HB 4851 is brought up for consideration any citizen will be left either making an incomplete statement about all four of these issues or confining their comments on only one or two aspects. This is not the way good law is made. Someone (Walsh) needs to change this.
Chairman Walsh has thrown in a nasty twist to the hearing. He's forcing all of the bills to be considered together--simultaneously--and therefore any citizen input cannot possibly do justice to the issues before the committee. HB 4834 covers three issues- adding a photo to the ID cards, making applications renewable every two years, and allowing LARA to violate Attorney General Opinion 7850 by subcontracting their responsibilities. Each of these is deserving of a five-minute speech by voters.
Therefore, 4834 is three bills, 4851 is four bills, 4853 and 4856 each deal with a single issue. That makes nine distinct changes being proposed to the MMA or associated laws. If Chairman Walsh deserves his reputation for fairness, if the committee is to be taken seriously as anything other than a rubber stamp for Schuette, and if the citizens get the final say on the Voter Initiated Act of 2008, the format will change to allow each individual issue to be addressed as it should be- as an individual issue. Committee inconvenience is unimportant in the pursuit of justice--after all, patients pay the state to be protected by the MMA and they deserve to be heard. Chairman Walsh, the fair application of law lies within your discretion. Make the right choice.