People Couldn’t Be Denied Marijuana Licenses Based On ‘Moral Character’ Or Cannabis Convictions Under New Michigan Bill
Michigan marijuana regulators would no longer be allowed to deny a person a medical cannabis license based on their “moral character and reputation” or prior marijuana convictions under a newly filed Senate bill.
Sen. Jeff Irwin (D) introduced the legislation—as well as a separate measure to legalize the possession and cultivation of certain psychedelics—last week.
The purpose of the cannabis bill is to align licensing policy for the state’s medical and recreational market. Under the adult-use legalization law, there’s no exclusionary language about moral character or previous marijuana convictions for license applicants, but the restriction does exist in the medical cannabis law.
SB 619 would strike statutory language allowing the Marijuana Regulatory Agency to deny an applicant based on “integrity, moral character, and reputation.” And it adds lines clarifying that people with marijuana felony or misdemeanor convictions are not automatically disqualified from participating in the program.
Irwin told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Monday that the subjective nature of the moral character clause “invites unequal application of the law, it invites favoritism, it invites corruption.”
“I’m certainly not suggesting that that’s what’s happening at the agency. I just think that getting rid of that clause and aligning it with what we passed in 2018 makes a lot of sense,” he said, referring to the recreational legalization ballot measure approved by voters that year.
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It’s not just about eliminating a questionable standard for prospective licensees, the senator argued. It’s also about taking additional steps to incentive participation in the legal industry by people who have been harmed by the drug war, removing unnecessary barriers so that they can shift away from illicit cannabis activity and move into the regulated market.
“That’s part of the goal that we need to reach in the state of Michigan if we’re to be the most successful in building the legal market,” Irwin said. “That’s why we need to keep the taxes low. We need to keep the barriers to entry low. We need to welcome people who might have a marijuana conviction on their record into the licensed space. That’s all part of being successful as a state in making sure the majority of transactions are taking place in a safe and regulated legal space.”
The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Sean McCann, Stephanie Chang and Sylvia Santana, all Democrats. Irwin said that while he’s not been guaranteed a committee hearing in the Republican-controlled legislature, he’s optimistic about building bipartisan support for the proposal, especially considering that members of both parties have previously moved to eliminate moral character clauses from other industries.
Both Michigan’s medical and recreational markets have proved lucrative, with the state reporting a record $171 million in sales in July. That translates into $23 million in tax revenue, some of which will go to infrastructure projects, public education and individual jurisdictions.
Last month, state officials also awarded $20 million in marijuana tax revenue to fund a pair of research projects meant to investigate the therapeutic potential of cannabis for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Michigan officials have also recently taken steps to ensure that residents in the state who legally consume cannabis have certain employment-related protections, with the state attorney general filing a legal brief last month arguing that workers fired from the jobs for marijuana use outside the workplace are still eligible for unemployment benefits.
Irwin’s separate psychedelics legislation comes as the state is becoming a unique hub for the movement to change policies around entheogenic substances, with local chapters of the group Decriminalize Nature pushing their city councils to adopt reforms.
The Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council approved entheogenic decriminalization last year—and in July, local lawmakers passed a resolution to officially designate September as Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.
Efforts are also underway in Grand Rapids to enact a policy change for psychedelics.
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