Week in Review: Michigan dispensary raids, Ohio legalization roadblock + mixed MMJ bag in Florida

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By John Schroyer

Law enforcement cracks down on Michigan’s medical cannabis industry, a bid to legalize marijuana in Ohio runs into a serious problem, and Florida’s MMJ effort moves forward while its CBD program takes a step back.

Here’s a closer look at several notable developments in the marijuana industry over the past week.

Raids ramping up

There have been a series of ongoing raids and legal actions against Michigan MMJ dispensaries by law enforcement this year, and longtime activist/industry observer Rick Thompson thinks he knows who’s behind it: the Michigan Sheriffs Association.

“It’s the result of one particular organization trying to reassert control over what they thought was an out-of-control industry in the state,” said Thompson, editor of the Compassion Chronicles, a website that focuses on marijuana-related developments in the Midwest.

The association drew on its members’ strength in December to kill a pair of bills that would have empowered Michigan’s medical cannabis industry, and since then the sheriffs have been doing all they can to chip away at the industry’s growth, he said.

“Since (December), we’ve seen a ramp-up of attacks in northern Michigan and in rural areas,” Thompson said. “In the population centers, like Detroit and Flint and Ann Arbor, we’re not seeing that trend. The sheriffs are far more powerful in the rural communities than in the urban areas, and that’s where we see the muscle being flexed.”

Thompson also noted that several communities, such as Ann Arbor and Flint, have adopted licensing for dispensaries “even without a state law mandating that they do so.” In those towns, he said, dispensaries are basically on stable ground.

But, Thompson said, he thinks the raids will probably taper off – if they haven’t already come to an end – because of negative responses from the media, residents and advocates.

“As long as the outrage continues, as long as the protests continue, sheriffs have a reason to stop raiding MMJ centers,” Thompson said. “If the protests back off… the sheriffs will become more aggressive.”

Ohio legalization in doubt

A well-funded campaign to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana in Ohio encountered a major problem this week on its way to qualifying for the ballot.

The Secretary of State’s office announced that the group fell short on the number of signatures needed to qualify the measure, and the organization has until next Thursday to make up the shortfall.

It’s a shocking development given the campaign had amassed more than double the amount of signatures needed. Around 400,000 of the nearly 700,000 signatures gathered were ultimately thrown out after officials deemed them invalid.

At this point, ResponsibleOhio – the group behind the initiative – must get another 29,509 valid signatures in order to make the ballot.

That’s a tall order, said Paul Beck, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University.

“I have no idea whether they’ll meet their target in the time remaining,” Beck said. “They’re putting a lot of money into it, they’re veteran canvassers, so I would assume they feel pretty confident that they’ll be able to satisfy the criteria, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

One big problem for groups such as ResponsibleOhio is that their main base of support is often younger voters. That bloc is one of the most unreliable when it comes to providing accurate information, such as the address at which they’re registered to vote as opposed to the address where they live.

“That’s particularly problematic for young people,” Beck said.

Beck added that a “conservative estimate” for the number of signatures ResponsibleOhio staffers would have to turn in the second time around is at least 70,000, assuming that probably tens of thousands will be discounted for one reason or another.

Even if the measure makes the ballot, Beck only gave it a 50% chance of succeeding. He said that the way the initiative is structured – to allow only 10 cultivation sites statewide and hand the control of those sites to wealthy campaign investors – provides critics with plenty of ammunition.

And that’s not even taking into account another ballot measure provided by state legislators that attempts to block ResponsibleOhio from creating a “constitutional monopoly.”

Mixed bag in Florida

While Florida’s campaign to legalize medical cannabis took yet another stride towards the 2016 ballot this week, news also broke that the state’s CBD program has encountered yet another potential roadblock that could delay licensing.

The CBD program, which was passed into law last year essentially as an attempt by the legislature to undercut MMJ legalization, has been delayed time and time again.

The issue this time: A key official overseeing the program has resigned her post, stoking fears that the state won’t announce the five CBD license winners on Aug. 8 as intended.

If the state moves forward in a timely manner, the license winners could still have time to get their operations up and running by early next year, just months ahead of the 2016 election. That ostensibly would make it easier for them to transition into a broader MMJ business, whether just on the cultivation side, the dispensing side, or both.

But if administrative delays keep holding up the CBD program, there’s a chance license winners won’t get up and running before the 2016 November elections, when a measure to create a much broader, more traditional medical marijuana law could be on the ballot. That could render the entire CBD program a moot point if it’s not up and running by that time.

The chances seem strong that Florida could indeed push through MMJ legalization next year.

United for Care – the campaign behind the 2014 MMJ push in Florida – is expressing growing confidence about the 2016 elections.

In a statement, United for Care Campaign Manager Ben Pollara called the current campaign a “massive head start” over last year’s attempt. The group has more than 13,000 volunteers as well as millionaire attorney John Morgan, who’s helping bankroll the campaign.

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizmedia.com