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What's behind Michigan Republicans' big turnaround on medical marijuana?

woman smoking a joint

Pot, meet your new friends: Michigan Republicans. 

All the signs indicate that the conservative legislature will legalize medical marijuana dispensaries and edibles this year. 

The House overwhelmingly passed the dispensary bill, which was a bit of a shock to the bill's sponsor, Mike Callton.

He's a Republican from Nashville, Michigan,and a chiropractor who's passionate about the benefits of pot for some patients with cancer and chronic pain.

But the first time he brought the idea up, he could barely get two co-sponsors on board.

Then, one year later, a paradigm shift.

“I had 16 co-sponsors! And people were disappointed they didn’t get on it, so we had to reopen it to co-sponsors again,” he says.

Callton's bill sailed through the House, and landed before Senate majority leader Randy Richardville on a committee this summer.

Richardville gave his tentative OK, though he says he'd like to see some changes. 

So why such a big change so fast?

Callton says part of it is just plain politics: More than 60% of Michiganders voted to allow medical marijuana in 2008. And now there’s been enough time for people to get comfortable with the idea, and watch a conservative – like Callton – go out on a limb.

"I was the canary in the coal mine,” he says. “And then they watched me win my election, big time, even though I was all out for this in the conservative districts."

The Senate will take up the dispensary proposal, as well as a bill allowing edibles to be sold, later this year. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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