A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

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December 21, 2015 Updated: December 21, 2015 at 7:05 am

The Detroit News. Dec. 17, 2015

Protect access to medical marijuana.

The Senate failed to pass legislation again this year that would legalize non-smokable forms of marijuana under the state's medical pot program. That means nearly 180,000 medical marijuana patients in Michigan remain in limbo, as do their caregivers and suppliers.

It's unfair to patients working within the law, adopted by a 2008 ballot initiative, to continue withholding safe access to their legal medicine. The Legislature must legalize edible, topical and other forms of the drug, and approve a regulatory structure in which the industry can operate.

A House bill that passed in the fall provides a good model of what the Senate should take up in 2016. The House also passed reasonable legislation last year, which stalled out in the Senate due to last-minute lobbying from law enforcement agencies.

The House bills legalize non-smoking forms of marijuana, including edibles such as cookies and candies, and derived topicals such as oils, often used to treat epilepsy.

Those bills would let communities decide if they want medical marijuana-related businesses, such as dispensaries, within their borders.

The bills also impose a 3 percent excise tax on marijuana businesses and 6 percent sales tax on medical marijuana purchases. While other medicines aren't specially taxed — in fact, many of them are subsidized by the state through various programs — medical marijuana still faces a stigma most pharmaceutical medicines don't, and the tax is a compromise that can be lived with.

The House bills also create categories of regulated medical marijuana businesses, and direct the Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Department to establish licensing fees for each category.

Sen. Rick Jones introduced legislation in the Senate, but likely lacking votes to pass it, pulled them from consideration right before the end of session.

His form of the bill, however, had some problems.

Specially, the Jones bill would establish a three-tiered system regulating the production and sale of medical pot for growers, distributors and retailers.

Much like the failed tiered system for alcohol sales in the state, this system would only benefit distributors, the middlemen who drive up costs. It would ultimately punish growers and retailers, while burdening patients.

Given any legislation on the medical program might eventually apply to full legalization, it's critical the legislation start off correctly.

Lawmakers who fear passing regulations might encourage the use of medical marijuana should be more worried that failing to protect the patients' safe access to medicine will increase black market sales.

It will also raise the incentives for bring full legalization to the ballot. Already two groups are collecting signatures for a hopeful 2016 ballot proposal.

It's unfair to declare medical marijuana legal, but then not provide the regulatory framework to assure that patients and their caregivers don't become accidental criminals.

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The Detroit Free Press. Dec. 17, 2015

Questions, answers in Duggan's Detroit demolitions plan.

The homes on the 1900 block of Calvert Street in Detroit are modest compared to the mansions a few blocks south in the historic Boston-Edison district — solid wood and brick one- and two-family houses, built in the 1920s as the city grew north. While the number of owner-occupied homes on the street has declined over the last few decades, most of the homes are well-maintained.

So when the house at 1960 Calvert went vacant, folks on the block hoped they'd soon welcome a new neighbor.

But the house stayed empty.

Sold in the county's 2006 tax foreclosure auction to an investor, the house was sold again the next year, and soon headed back into foreclosure, and was sold again in the 2011 auction. By then, the folks on Calvert Street had stopped hoping that anyone would renovate and occupy the house — in a city full of houses that need work, a 2008 fire made fixing the house a too-expensive proposition.

Detroit demolitions likely to get big boost from Congress

So there it sat, for seven years, a familiar eyesore for the folks who lived nearby.

The house at 1960 Calvert was demolished last month, flattened in a matter of hours by a three-man team dispatched by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's demolitions operation. A few weeks later, a crew came out to fill the hole.

And a seven-year problem was solved.

Vacant structures are a problem across this sprawling city, homes left empty when the folks who lived there died, or moved away, or were foreclosed on. Such homes attract vermin, arsonists, criminals looking for cover and unlawful occupants, squatters who bring trouble with them.

Duggan hopes to preside over a Detroit turnaround. And that means solving its decades-long blight epidemic. The mayor has pledged to find new residents for viable homes — but he's also promised to bring more down empty, blighted structures than any past administration.

And so far, he's made great strides. Some 7,000 homes have been torn down during the first two years of Duggan's tenure, an astounding figure made possible in part by a steady influx of cash from the federal government.

But Duggan's demo efforts have become Detroit's latest political firestorm, largely because of a controversial bulk-pricing pilot program that launched and ended last year.

The way traditional demolition contracts are let is slow, but accurate — to determine cost of demo, contractors visit each home they'll tear down, offering up a price for the work based on that assessment.

But at least 30,000 Detroit houses need to come down. To make a dent in that massive inventory, Duggan's team devised a faster way to demolish blighted houses: Set a flat rate per cubic foot — 52 cents — based on the average cost for hundreds of past jobs, and bid contracts out to businesses with the capacity to knock down not dozens of homes, but hundreds, in a two-month period. Duggan's team hoped that large companies from across the country would want in on the action, creating a pool of high-capacity vendors to tackle Detroit blight work.

But those bulk-price contracts have drawn criticism, centering on three points: Whether the businesses that won the demolition contracts had inappropriate input into setting the bulk unit pricing, whether those businesses used — and the city allowed — change orders to unfairly inflate the cost of demolition, and whether the program worked as intended.

Let's start with the last question, the simplest to answer: No.

Duggan himself told WTVS-TV (Channel 56)'s MiWeek that the program didn't work — that setting a bulk price didn't account for the inconsistencies of cost that the circumstances of individual homes, houses with asbestos, for example, required. If he had the opportunity to do it again, Duggan said, he would not.

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The Lansing State Journal. Dec. 15, 2015.

Largest solar array in Michigan.

The largest solar array in Michigan is coming to Delta Township, the Lansing Board of Water & Light announced last week. Plans for the 186-acre solar array to be installed near the Delta Township GM assembly plant were approved for a special land permit by the Delta Township Board.

Once completed, the array will provide energy for 3,500 homes and serve as a substation in the area, which BWL General Manager Dick Peffley says will better prepare residents for outages and storm damage. Whether you're one of those who are excited about renewable energy or not, this is a solid plan to better secure energy for a large chunk of the region.

"This is huge, and it's a good deal for our customers," Peffley said. We couldn't agree more.

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The Port Huron Times Herald. Dec. 17, 2015

Cadet grants invest in community policing.

The Community Foundation of St. Clair County's grants to fund the police academy training of two Port Huron Police Department cadets is a brilliant idea with long-term benefits for the city and its residents.

The Port Huron Police Department has officer recruitment and retention problems that aren't unique to cities its size.

Among those problems is high demand for officers across the state and nation as the economy rebounds and cut-to-the-bone departments are forced to replace officers lost to attrition. Another issue for cities like Port Huron is, although local economies may be improving, municipal pay scales aren't. As Chief Michael Reaves said this week, Port Huron and cities like it have big-city policing issues but not necessarily big-city compensation packages.

Port Huron, though, has a unique problem — and it created it. The police department's cadet program grows good officers. New police academy graduates who've also been through the department's cadet program have more experience, more knowledge and better skills than starting officers with only college and academy backgrounds.

Those former Port Huron cadets are more valuable and other departments know it. That's why they actively recruit them.

The Community Foundation grants provide an incentive for those cadets to begin their careers in Port Huron. Covering the cost of cadet's police academy training — with money from the foundation and not tax dollars — is a financial incentive that can compete with higher wages elsewhere.

Cadets have other incentives to stay in the city — they remain close to home and family, close to the environments they grew up in, and close to the things they value — but the police academy grant reinforces the community's interest in and commitment to them.

It works both ways.

The community wants its officers close to their homes and families, and in an area they grew up in and with, in a place they identify with and value. The Port Huron Police Department is a model of community policing. It works well and can work better when its officers are both of the community and in the community.

The grants are a wise move and another reason to thank Jim Acheson. The grants are funded by the Community Foundation's James Acheson donor-advised fund.

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