Activists sue to remove marijuana as controlled substance

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A group of pro-cannabis groups and legendary poet John Sinclair have sued the Michigan Board of Pharmacy and its chair, Nichole Cover, seeking to remove the body’s continued listing of marijuana as a controlled substance under state law.

John Sinclair | Ken Coleman

Under Michigan law, the Board of Pharmacy is charged with the duty to regulate, control and inspect the character and standards of pharmacy practice and of drugs manufactured, distributed, prescribed, dispensed and administered or issued.

The plaintiffs held a press conference Wednesday in Detroit at 4:20 p.m. — a well-known marijuana reference.

They called the body’s inaction “absurd,” citing the 2008 law legalizing medical marijuana, 2016 Facilities Licensing Act regulating medical pot and Proposal 1 of 2018, which legalized weed for recreational use.

“We all believe that those two (board inaction and current law) can’t stand together,” said Matthew Abel, an attorney with Cannabis Counsel. “We believe that they are incompatible.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office responded that the office “doesn’t comment on pending litigation.”

John Sinclair, Michael Komorn, Matthew Abel and Thomas Lavigne, Jan. 23, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Joining Abel at a news conference were Sinclair; Michael Komorn, a Farmington Hills attorney; and Thomas Lavigne, also of Cannabis Counsel.

In passing the Facilities Licensing Act in 2016, the Michigan Legislature recognized the medical benefits of marijuana and removed the controlled substances law listing of marijuana as Schedule I contraband, according to the lawsuit.

It also removed the requirement that marijuana be prescribed by a physician, dispensed by a pharmacist and handled by persons with a controlled substances license. Given the law’s requirement that “harmful drugs” may be dispensed only by prescription, marijuana can no longer be classified as a harmful, controlled substance, the plaintiffs argue.

“We know what narcotics are; things like opioids,” said Komorn. “Marijuana is not an opiate.”  

Sinclair is a Flint native who co-founded the Detroit Artists’ Workshop, the Wayne State University Artists’ Society and the White Panther Party in support of civil rights. He says that this effort takes him full circle.

John Sinclair | Detroit Artists’ Workshop

As an activist during the 1960s, he advocated for marijuana reform and protested to end the Vietnam War. His poetry, music and advocacy made him an enemy of the President Richard Nixon administration. Sinclair was arrested in 1967 and sentenced to 9.5 to 10 years in prison for giving two marijuana joints to an undercover police officer named “Lovelace,” according to a Nov. 6, 1971, Detroit Free Press story. 

His subsequent arrest attracted opposition to his treatment. A who’s who of notable supporters made him a cause célèbre. Recording superstars like Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, John Lennon and Yoko Ono called for his release.

After serving about 29 months in prison, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned his conviction and ruled that the state’s marijuana law was unfair and unreasonable and that it was unconstitutional to classify marijuana with narcotics such as opium.  

Sinclair, now 77, described the Michigan Board of Pharmacy’s inaction as “extremely erroneous.”

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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