Week in Review: PA Ramping Up for MMJ, Tribes Making Moves + Dueling Initiatives in Michigan

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By John Schroyer and Tony C. Dreibus

Pennsylvania businesses are prepping for medical marijuana legalization despite long odds, Native American cannabis activity starts to ramp up, and two recreational MJ efforts make gains in Michigan.

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

Holding Out Hope in Pennsylvania

Some entrepreneurs are so convinced Pennsylvania will legalize medical marijuana this year that they’ve already started exploring how to get involved in the industry.

Two individuals even founded a cannabis trade group recently called the Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society (PMCS), and they’ve reportedly fielded calls from “hundreds” of interested entrepreneurs.

They may all be jumping the gun, however.

The fact of the matter is that Senate Bill 3, the measure to legalize MMJ, is currently bottled up in a state House of Representatives committee.

The bill cleared the Senate easily and appears to have widespread support among voters. When it moved to the House, however, it was assigned to a committee chaired by an anti-cannabis Republican who simply refuses to bring the bill forward for a vote, thereby stonewalling its progress.

The chances of passage now seem slim. Still, MMJ backers remain convinced that there’s a way forward for the bill.

“The votes are there to do this. If it gets to the floor, it will pass, and it will pass overwhelmingly,” said Michael Bronstein, a lobbyist and lead consultant for the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp.

Bronstein – who has been working to get the bill passed – says the political willpower is there. It’s now down to closed-door negotiations, and it’s a matter of how the bill could be pushed through. Bronstein added that it may take until next year to figure out a deal, but he’s confident that MMJ will become a reality.

Meanwhile, the new trade group is telling businesses to get ready.

“It’s definitely something that’s happening, and the buzz is ‘Get ready,’” said Russell Cersosimo, director of strategic alliances for the PMCS. “What we’ve encouraged everyone to do is get your business plan together and prepare as though it’s coming.”

Tribal Moves

The entrance of Native American tribes into the marijuana industry is becoming more of a reality with each passing week, it seems. But how it plays out will likely vary greatly from state to state, and in some cases controversy has cropped up.

In South Dakota, a tribe took the initiative and voted this week to legalize the production and sale of cannabis. Local officials, however, knocked the decision, and the state attorney general indicated such a move could lead to a potential crackdown on consumers.

That’s a completely different situation than the one playing out in Washington State, where officials have shown a strong willingness to work with tribes by setting up a framework for negotiating with those that want to pursue marijuana. The idea is to help bring these tribes under the state’s recreational marijuana umbrella.

In California, more business interests seem to be getting involved. Earlier this week, a company announced the hiring of a former tribal leader to convince Native American leaders to allow marijuana on their lands.

That move is controversial, however, because the former leader is Tex Hall, who came under fire for shady personal dealings and how he spent tribal money from oil ventures, according to a New York Times exposé.

There’s also been word of tribes in multiple other states making moves towards the marijuana industry, including California, Arizona, Montana and even one rumored tribe in Wisconsin (which, like South Dakota, has legalized neither medical nor recreational cannabis).

The different players, circumstances and attitudes in each state signal that the Native American cannabis sector will likely develop inconsistently (and controversially) across the nation, much like the wider MMJ industry.

Michigan May Have to Choose

It’s looking more and more like Michigan voters will get a chance to weigh in next year on whether they want to legalize adult-use marijuana. The biggest question may very well be which ballot initiative do they want to support.

So far, there are two separate measures in the signature-gathering phase: One by the Michigan Cannabis Coalition (MCC), and another by the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee.

A few key differences that could impact the shape of the business community:

  • The MCC would leave most rulemaking, regulatory details and licensing fees up to the state legislature or a newly formed board. It would allow home growers to have up to two flowering marijuana plants “per dwelling.”
  • The competing initiative would leave rulemaking up to local governments, set a $5,000 cap on licensing application fees and a $500 limit on renewal fees charged by municipalities, and allow home growers to have up to 12 plants. It also would legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp (MCC’s proposal would not) and contains several specific requirements on the regulatory front. For example, edibles manufacturers would have to include a nutritional panel on their packaging “conforming to FDA requirements.”

As it stands now, the campaigns each need to gather at least 253,000 signatures within the next six months to make the 2016 ballot.

So it’s quite possible that only one of the two will end up qualifying. In the event that both make the ballot – and each gets at least 50% of the vote – then the initiative with the most votes would become law.

Regardless, the stars are aligning for a recreational cannabis vote in Michigan next year.

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizmedia.com

Tony C. Dreibus can be reached at tonyd@mjbizmedia.com