The Michigan Senate on Thursday voted unanimously to ban marijuana-infused beer and wine, a pre-emptive strike ahead of possible legalization of the drug.
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, would prohibit the possession or sale of marijuana beer, wine, spirits or mixed drinks — regardless of whether they contain alcohol.
The former Eaton County Sheriff said he was inspired to draft the legislation after hearing about similar products in places like Colorado, where Blue Moon’s brewer recently announced it would launch a non-alcoholic beer infused with marijuana.
“If we don’t ban it, we’re going to have it, and it is a recipe for disaster,” Jones said. “If you want it, go to Colorado or Canada. We don’t need it here.”
Marijuana advocates say the proposal is a solution in search of a problem, but approval comes as Senate Republicans consider whether to take up a pot legalization proposal by early June or let the citizen initiative advance to the November ballot.
Jones opposes legalization but believes voters would approve the proposal, so he supports a push to adopt the legislation and then amend it later this year. The Senate is unlikely to vote without a clear sign House Republicans would follow suit, a scenario Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, has called unlikely.
Jones warned that marijuana beer could be sold at bars, creating liability for owners who sell an “edible” product that may take longer to intoxicate a user than alcohol and have a stronger effect. Bars are not supposed to allow patrons to leave and drive if they appear inebriated.
But the legalization proposal would not allow bars to sell marijuana products, said Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Alcohol Like Marijuana. The drug could only be sold through state-licensed dispensaries, which would need to be stand-alone entities.
“So once it passes, people won’t be seeing bars or liquor stores, or even convenience stores for that matter, selling cannabis products — just dispensaries,” Hovey said.
Communities would also need to opt in and could set their own zoning and local licensing regulations, he added.
Still, Jones predicted recreational marijuana could open the door to unexpected products the state has never before considered regulating.
“When the November ballot passes … bar the door, it’s going to be the wild, wild West,” Jones told reporters after Thursday’s state Senate vote on marijuana beer.
Hovey disputed that characterization, saying the legalization proposal would create a “highly regulated licensing structure just like the medical marijuana system the Legislature passed in the fall of 2016.”
That law, passed with bipartisan support in the Republican-led Legislature, created new regulations separate from the medical pot law approved by voters in 2008.
“We followed the licensing structure almost to the letter,” Hovey said.
The only difference, he said, is licensing would be processed by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs rather than the “politically appointed” Medical Marihuana Licensing Board.
Kevin Sabet, president of the Smart Approaches to Marijuana advocacy group, praised the Senate legislation.
Marijuana beer presents a “double whammy” because it’s appealing to kids and is dangerous, he said.
“It should not be legal for medical use or recreational use,” Sabet said.
If Michigan voters see a legalization proposal on the ballot in November, they won’t just be voting on marijuana, Sabet said. “They’re voting on things like (marijuana-infused) candies, ice cream and cookies. Those are very attractive to kids.”
Michigan’s 2008 medical marijuana law does not allow bars or liquor stores to sell marijuana products, and dispensaries are not allowed to sell liquor, said Rick Thompson of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“This seems a lot like a rhetorical legislative exercise because this bill would effect zero people in Michigan,” Thompson said last week in committee testimony. “There’s zero market for this.”
Thompson argued the proposal could also limit entrepreneurs who want to brew beer with Cannabidiol and other parts of the marijuana plant used by medical patients that do not have the same psychoactive effects like Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical commonly associated with a “high.”
Ontario, Canada, recently awarded a $300,000 grant to help a firm develop marijuana-brewed beer, and California wine makers are experimenting with marijuana-infused wine, according to media reports.
“I’m so happy that instead of becoming stoners in Michigan, they’ll go to Canada or they’ll go to California,” Jones said at the hearing. “Thank goodness.”