medical marijuana

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A Republican state lawmaker has proposed a measure to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries. Right now, the future of dispensaries is waiting on a ruling from the state Supreme Court.

State Representative Mike Callton says he did not support the medical marijuana law adopted by voters in 2008.

“I think what voters passed is nuts, just crazy insane," Callton says. He says the voter-approved law has too many loopholes that create questions and problems. “Obviously, 62 percent of voters, whatever, wanted some form of compassionate care for people, but I think the people who put that referendum together really did a disservice to the people of this state.

Callton wants to legalize dispensaries – and he wants to allow them to buy growers’ surplus marijuana and keep it off the black market.  The bill would ban felons from running dispensaries; and would allow communities to license the facilities and decide where they could be located.

If everyone who is trying to get a referendum on something on the ballot this fall succeeds, every conscientious person may end up having to spend half an hour in the voting booth in November.

That’s a  bit of an exaggeration, but not much. There is a campaign to get a ballot referendum on the state’s emergency manager law -- and another to recall the governor himself.

The unions are collecting signatures to try to get a constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining for workers in both the public and private sectors.

Prarie Plant Systems

A Canadian company specializing in plant-based pharmaceuticals wants to turn an old copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula into a large-scale medical marijuana farm.

Paul Egan from the Detroit Free Press reports that Prairie Plant Systems (PPS), along with their stateside subsidiary SubTerra, purchased the White Pine Mine in 2003 and began using it for other types of plant-based research. But the company hopes to start using the facility to produce pot and tap into Michigan's market of 131,000 medical marijuana users.

According to Egan, PPS already operates a marijuana growing facility in Canada and has a lucrative contract to supply medical pot to the Canadian government. But while Michigan voters have approved medical marijuana use, the project is still a long way from becoming a reality.

Egan writes:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder would all have to sign off, and in the case of the first two agencies, reverse direction on policy. Federal agencies consider marijuana illegal. DEA agents have not cracked down on small operations to supply licensed patients but almost certainly would view SubTerra as a major bust opportunity.

Legal hurdles aside, why use a mine to grow an underground pot crop?

Egan spoke to Brent Zettl, president and CEO of PPS:

Growing marijuana hundreds of feet underground - the same way the company started its Canadian operations in 2001 - provides security, constant temperature, controlled light and humidity, and protects the plants from bugs and diseases, eliminating the need for harmful pesticides and herbicides, Zettl said. He said any medical marijuana sold in Michigan should be subject to the same regular and rigorous testing as is found in Canada.

However, according to Egan, PPS's regulated growing techniques have caused some Canadian users to complain about the quality and taste of the company's product.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

The state of Michigan has ordered a new printer that will allow it to produce 4,000 medical marijuana cards a day.

Rae Ramsdell, who oversees the program, says 40,000 people who don't have cards have been given a tamper-proof letter to show they're qualified to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

More than 131,000 people have been approved for marijuana. Thousands more serve as caregivers, who are allowed to grow marijuana for up to five people.

user elioja / Flickr

Michigan’s medical marijuana law is the focus of ongoing discussions at the state Capitol this week.

Lawmakers are considering proposals that would add regulations to how users can grow and store medical marijuana, and could change how police officers gather information about medical marijuana ID holders.

State Representative John Walsh (R- Livonia) chairs the House committee discussing the medical marijuana proposals.

He said he knows not everyone will be happy with the measures, but he says it’s not his intention to dramatically alter the medical marijuana law as it was approved by voters.

“We’ve worked hard to be as open as possible, and to prove to the skeptics that we’re open minded,” said Walsh.

Supporters of medical marijuana say lawmakers are “nipping away at the edges” of the medical marijuana law by considering the changes. And they say they are particularly concerned with a proposal in the state Senate that would eliminate glaucoma as a medical condition that is treatable with marijuana.

Walsh says medical marijuana users don’t need to be concerned about the proposed changes.

"We’re not interested...in doing away with the law, or undoing what voters asked for when they passed it, and I think we made that very very clear, to the point that when I left the room a number of medical marijuana came up and said, ‘Wow, we thought you were out to crush the whole movement, and now we understand you’re open to different things,’” said Walsh.

A state House panel is expected to begin hearings at the state Capitol today on a series of bills that would add regulations to the state’s medical marijuana law.

The bills before the state House panel would add regulations to how medical marijuana ID photos are taken and how the IDs are distributed. They would also add requirements for transportation of medical marijuana in a car. Several state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said the medical marijuana law is too vague and needs some clarification.

But supporters of the law say it was approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2008, and lawmakers should not tamper with it. Similar public hearings to the one scheduled this week have attracted hundreds of medical marijuana supporters – many of them in wheelchairs and suffering from chronic disease or pain.

Panelists offered a variety of perspectives on marijuana laws at the annual Wayne State University law review symposium Friday.

The largely civil conversation ranged widely, from the potential benefits of legalizing and taxing marijuana, to the perils of legalizing a drug that many think would be hard to regulate.

One symposium panelist was Kevin Sabet, a former advisor to the National Office of Drug Control Policy.

screen grab from YouTube video

As the debate continues in Michigan over how to enforce the state's medical marijuana law, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concludes that regularly smoking marijuana does not impair lung function.

Here is one of the co-authors of the research, Dr. Stefan Kertesz, explaining what they found.

Dr. Kertesz is an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine and a physician at the Birmingham VA Medical Center.

He says other studies on the subject showed mixed results.

"What this study clarifies," Kertesz explains in the video, "is that the relationship to marijuana and lung function changes depending on how much a person has taken in over the course of a lifetime."

"At those very high levels of use, there could be harm. However, at those lower or moderate levels of use… there’s no real evidence of harm to air flow rate or to lung capacity," said Kertesz.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan Supreme Court today will consider a case that affects the 131,000 medical marijuana patients in Michigan. The case centers on where patients can grow their marijuana.   

Larry Steven King grew his medical marijuana plants in a locked dog kennel at his home in Owosso. King has a medical marijuana card. But police charged him with growing marijuana illegally. The kennel did not have roof.  

Prosecutors say that means it did not meet the state requirement for an ‘enclosed, locked facility’ . 

Attorney John Minock represents Larry King. Minock says the problem is with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which he says is vague on what exactly an ‘enclosed, locked facility’ actually entails.   

“Larry was trying to comply with the law, as he understood it," says Minock, "The law on this area is not really clear.” The case split the lower courts. The trial court dismissed the charges, finding that the marijuana had been stored properly. But the Court of Appeals sided with prosecutors that the kennel did not meet the law’s requirements.

Eggrole / Flicker

A campaign to legalize marijuana is expected to launch an effort this week to get the question of legalization before voters this November.

Matthew Abel is an organizer with the campaign. He says he thinks most Michigan voters want to legalize marijuana.It’s pretty clear that the polls in favor of ending the drug war, especially against marijuana, go in our favor," Abel says.

Voters in Michigan approved the state’s medical marijuana law by a wide margin in 2008. Abel says the campaign to legalize marijuana does not yet have the same level of funding the medical marijuana campaign had a couple years ago. The campaign to legalize marijuana must gather more than 300,000 valid signatures by early July to get the question on the ballot.

The state Supreme Court will also hear a case this week on the rules for medical marijuana clinics.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he believes the state’s medical marijuana law has been hijacked by people who want to legalize the drug. Schuette said he believes voters were misled by drafters of the law about its true purpose, and that’s one reason why he does not support an expansive interpretation of the act.

“We should not have nod and a wink justice,” said Schuette, adding:

“Have an honest debate about it instead of putting together a patchwork law that is so full of holes it makes a mockery of swiss cheese, and if you listen to the comments of the authors of it, it was purposefully done vague.”

Schuette opposed the medical marijuana question when it was on the ballot in 2008, and he led the campaign to reject the initiative. The attorney general has issued formal opinions restricting medical marijuana and backed efforts to close dispensaries.

Medical marijuana advocate Rick Thompson of the Michigan Association of Compassion said Schuette is wrong about the law’s supporters. Thompson calls Schuette’s comments “smoke and mirrors” that avoid a discussion about the benefits of medical marijuana. 

State Attorney General Bill Schuette has gone to court to close down three mid-Michigan marijuana dispensaries. Schuette’s lawsuits say the dispensaries are public nuisances that are operating outside Michigan’s medical marijuana act.

The dispensaries are all in Lansing and Jackson. Schuette says employees of the dispensaries illegally took money for medical marijuana card applications, and sold marijuana to undercover officers. That’s even though a Court of Appeals decision earlier this year says it is illegal to buy or sell the drug. That decision is being appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Marijuana also remains illegal under federal law, although federal prosecutors have been instructed not to pursue medical marijuana convictions.

Schuette says, right now, pretty much the only way for medical marijuana card holders to legally possess the drug is to grow it themselves, and that he supports law enforcement efforts to shut down dispensaries that are distributing marijuana.

flickr user bobdoran / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

An official from Michigan's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said an equipment malfunction led to a backlog in printing around 20,000 cards for medical marijuana patients, according to the Saginaw News.

The newspaper reports the backlog goes back to medical marijuana applications received since last July.

Celeste Clarkson, compliance section manager with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs spoke at a seminar on medical marijuana enforcement in Saginaw Township.

From the Saginaw News:

The state has continued to print up to 800 cards a day for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, but the volume of applications has approaches 1,500 a day. Once an application has been approved, the state has five days to print a card under state rules.

The state is reviewing how best to catch up on the backlog, she said...

The state has received nearly 200,000 medical marijuana applications through the end of October with 120,597 active patients, according to state figures.

The state has 45,531 active caregiver registry card users. A caregiver must have one card for each patient and may have no more than five patients. A caregiver can provide no more than 12 marijuana plants for each patients.

The state has denied 14,288 applications, she said. Those denied may reapply.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A Lansing attorney believes Michigan’s Attorney General is trying to dismantle the state’s medical marijuana law.   

Thursday, Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a formal legal opinion that police officers may seize pot from medical marijuana patients. In the opinion, the Attorney General says police could face federal drug charges if they return to the marijuana to the patients.   

Attorney Eric Misterovich represents medical marijuana patients. He believes the attorney general will next try to stop the state from issuing medical marijuana permits.  

“You know, we can see where it’s going. And I’m not sure what the attorney general’s plans are, but I think this is a step…toward…invalidating the (Michigan Medical Marijuana) act as a whole," Misterovich says.

Before he was attorney general, Bill Schuette led the campaign against the 2008 state referendum on medical marijuana. Since he was elected Michigan Attorney General, Schuette has supported legal efforts to curb access to medical marijuana.

Michigan Attorney General's office

There’s a new challenge to the rights of Michigan’s medical marijuana patients.   

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette issued an opinion Thursday saying police can seize marijuana from medical marijuana patients. 

In the opinion, the attorney general also said it would be illegal for police to return the pot, even after they confirm that the patients possess a medical marijuana permit.  

Under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, a patient with a valid state issued identification card may possess up to two and a half ounces of usable marijuana. That same state law prohibits police from seizing marijuana or drug paraphernalia from authorized medical marijuana patients. 

But Attorney General Schuette said the state law conflicts with federal law on the subject of marijuana forfeiture. Schuette said federal law preempts state law. The opinion also said police could face federal drug charges if they returned the confiscated marijuana to legitimate patients.

An advocate for medical marijuana in Michigan is urging state lawmakers against over-regulation.

Tim Beck of the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers says the law was designed to give local governments a lot of latitude when it comes to regulating dispensaries.

“Ann Arbor has come up with some very excellent regulations on dispensaries. Security requirements - the City of Lansing has done that. The individuals that have had problems are the individuals that have been careless,” said Beck.

Beck acknowledges there are gaps in the law.

“We couldn’t put everything in a ballot initiative,” he said. “And I will admit, okay, we deliberately did not put anything about dispensaries in the law.”

Beck believes Michigan will legalize marijuana by 2016.

The state House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold hearings later this year on legislation that could settle confusion over the medical marijuana act.

- Chelsea Hagger - Michigan Public Radio Network

user paigefiller / Flickr

Kalamazoo voters will decide next month whether to write a relaxed attitude toward marijuana use into the City Charter of the western Michigan community. The ballot proposal would direct police to make enforcement of
laws against possession of small amounts of marijuana a low priority. Supporters gathered about 2,600 signatures in order to win a spot for the charter amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.
    

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has come out against the proposal, as have several Kalamazoo City Commission candidates.
    

user paigefiller / Flickr

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Prosecutors in Grand Rapids can pursue drug charges against a man who is permitted to grow medical marijuana but was caught with too many plants.

The Michigan appeals court says the 88 plants seized by police a year ago were too many for Ryan Bylsma. The court on Wednesday agreed with a Kent County judge who has refused to dismiss the
case.

Bylsma is a registered caregiver for two people, which means he can grow 24 plants. But the commercial space he controlled in Grand Rapids had dozens more. Bylsma says the plants belonged to other caregivers and people permitted to use marijuana to alleviate health problems.

The appeals court says Michigan's marijuana law is strict: Bylsma can't have access to marijuana grown for others.

People injured in auto crashes would not be allowed to use their no-fault coverage to pay for medical marijuana to treat chronic pain under a bill approved by a legislative committee.

The measure is one of several proposed new restrictions to Michigan’s medical marijuana law.

The law was enacted by voters in 2008.

Peter Kuhnmuench is with the Insurance Institute of Michigan, which supports the measure. He says insurance coverage was not supposed to be part of the medical marijuana law.

"So I think it’s pretty clear, yes, they want to utilize this is as a medical procedure, but at the same hand, not force any carrier to cover it as a covered service."

Kuhnmuench  says the bill would not prohibit someone from buying additional coverage that might pay for medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana patients say the law should not specifically ban one treatment for people facing chronic pain from an injury.

USFWS

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Two Republican state senators say they're planning legislation that would require people to live in Michigan for one year before getting state permission to use marijuana for
medical purposes.

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker and Sen. Rick Jones say Tuesday it's an effort to stop out-of-state marijuana growers from setting up shop in homes rented in Michigan. The proposal would join at least a dozen other bills aimed at changing the state's medical marijuana law approved by voters in 2008.

Michigan State Police say they have had instances where out-of-state residents rent homes in Michigan, then get a driver's license and a state-issued medical marijuana card.

The out-of-state residents grow pot in the rental homes and return occasionally to check on the crop, selling the drug in their home states.

Flickr/lavocado

One Michigan library wants to help clear up the confusion many people have about the legal issues concerning medical marijuana.

Flickr/Vampire Bear

A pilot with the Monroe County sheriff's office spotted many marijuana plants Saturday while flying over two corn fields in Milan Township, 60 miles west of Detroit.

Deputies counted 55 mature plants worth at least $25,000. The discovery is under investigation.

Federal drug agents from Toledo, Ohio, are also part of the case.

The owner of a Lansing medical marijuana clinic faces 90 days in jail or a 500 dollar fine for an alleged attempt to trade pot for votes in city council elections.

Shekina Pena’s clinic offered a small amount of pot or a marijuana-laced treat to medical marijuana card holders as part of a voter registration drive. At the same time, the clinic advocated for city council candidates who opposed a restrictive local medical marijuana ordinance.

John Sellek is the spokesman for state Attorney General Bill Schuette. He says the law does not allow anything of value to be offered in an effort to influence a vote.

"The voters of Michigan when they enacted the Michigan medical marijuana law, they intended that marijuana to be used for a narrow group of people who are seriously ill," said Sellek. "They did not intend for it to be used basically as a door prize to encourage somebody to do something, and that’s what they were doing in this instance."

Pena did not respond to a phone message left at her clinic. Schuette led the campaign against the 2008 statewide medical marijuana ballot question, and supports efforts to add restrictions to the voter-approved law.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Several thousand medical marijuana patients and their supporters rallied at the state Capitol today. 

The state Court of Appeals recently ruled that medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal under Michigan law.

Patient advocate Joe Cain says the courts and state officials are working to undermine the state constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana.

"They don't care about you," said Cain. "They don't care or they would have had a plan, because you don’t take sick people’s medicine away."

Cain says the state Court of Appeals decision was politically motivated.

"The objective was to deny people safe access to their medicine. This was not a judicial decision. This was a political decision," said Cain.

The Michigan Supreme Court will soon consider several medical marijuana cases. The court's decision in those cases is expected to go a long way to determining the scope of Michigan's medical marijuana law.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A rally is scheduled Wednesday on the steps of the state Capitol protesting proposed changes to the state's medical marijuana law.

The Michigan Medical Marijuana Association president and other speakers during the rally in Lansing are expected to discuss the law and treatment patients and caregivers have received from law enforcement. The event starts at noon.

Michigan voters in 2008 approved use of marijuana to relieve pain and other chronic ailments. About 100,000 people have state-issued cards letting them have 2.5 ounces of "usable" pot and up to 12 plants. Registered caregivers also can grow marijuana for five people.

Michigan's Appeals Court has ruled some sales at dispensaries illegal.

Changes proposed by some Michigan legislators requiring stricter doctor-patient relationships before a patient could get authorization to use the drug.

Garretttaggs55 / wikipedia commons

The Michigan Court of Appeals has rejected the legal defense of a man who got a medical marijuana card after he was busted for possession.

This the second time in two weeks the appeals court has narrowed the scope of the state’s medical marijuana law.

Last week, the appeals court ruled shops where money is exchanged for medical marijuana are illegal.

Now the court has ruled people who grow marijuana better have their state-issued medical marijuana cards in hand – getting one after a police raid is no defense against prosecution.

The court struck down the defense against marijuana charges that has been tried in several Michigan counties.

Brian Reed’s home was raided after a police drug team spotted six marijuana plants growing in his backyard.

Reed says he never got a medical marijuana card because his regular doctors work for a clinic that would lose its federal funding if they prescribed marijuana to patients.

Between the raid and when he was formally arrested and charged, Reed got a different doctor’s approval and a state-issued medical marijuana card as a treatment for chronic back pain.

Reed said that should be enough to protect from prosecution under Michigan’s medical marijuana law, which was approved by voters in 2008.

The appeals court upheld a lower court ruling and agreed a person busted for marijuana possession cannot use getting a doctor’s permission after the fact as a legal defense.

The ruling could be appealed to the state Supreme Court, which already has two other medical marijuana cases on its docket.

(courtesy of Flint Medical Dispensary)

Local county prosecutors are meeting this weekend on Mackinac Island.  This week’s appeals court ruling that medical marihuana dispensaries are illegal is a hot topic of conversation.

(Courtesy of the Michigan Attorney General's office)

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he'll inform the state's 83 county prosecutors about a court decision that bans the commercial sale of medical marijuana.  Schuette says the appeals court ruling empowers local authorities to shut down marijuana dispensaries.

The businesses typically allow people with medical marijuana cards to sell pot to others who also have cards.  The appeals court said Wednesday that such shops are illegal. 

user elioja / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Updated at 9:57 p.m.

We have this update from Rick Pluta -

The decision leaves the discretion to close a dispensary with local prosecutors.

Isabella County Prosecutor Larry Burdick, who brought the case to the Court of Appeals, says local police in his bailiwick will start tonight delivering copies of the decision and warning letters to the "four or five  dispensaries in his bailiwick."

He says the letters warn the dispensaries they are out of compliance with the law if they accept payments for medical marijuana and, if so, they need to change their operations or shut down.

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III says he's facing a more complicated situation. The city of Lansing has become a center for dispensaries. It has upwards of 40 -- some of them operate 24/7.

Dunnings says he warned city officials the dispensaries are illegal, but the city passed an ordinance allowing them. Dunnings says he intends to step carefully since the dispensary operators thought they were playing by the rules. Nevertheless, The Lansing City Pulse reports most of the  11 dispensaries on the Michigan Avenue strip directly east of the state Capitol responded to the ruling by closing their doors.   

 

Update 2:37 p.m.

Here's a video of the oral arguments made in front of the Michigan Court of Appeals on June 7, 2011.

The Court of Appeals ruled today that the marijuana dispensary in question operated in violation of the law.

People v Compassionate Apothecary from Eric L. VanDussen on Vimeo.

And here is Steve Carmody's raw interview with Michael Komorn, the president of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Association.

Komoron told Carmody that despite the ruling, dispensaries around the state will continue to operate under local implementation and interpretation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act - at least until the Michigan Supreme Court rules on the case.

Update 12:48 p.m.

Sarah Alvarez, Changing Gears Public Insight Analyst and lawyer, read the ruling that was released by the Michigan Court of Appeals this morning. A three-judge panel wrote the opinion (Joel Hoekstra, Christopher Murray, and Cynthia Stephens).

The case involves Isabella County prosecutors office and the two owners of the Compassionate Apothocary, a dispensary in Isabella County operating  with 345 members. Alvarez says the appeals court finds that no provision of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act would permit for patient to patient sale of marijuana.

The dispensary is therefore found to be a public nuisance and must cease operations. (important to note this is not a criminal prosecution).

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