medical marijuana

Marijuana in Michigan: What new pot laws mean for the state

Nov 14, 2012
miss.libertine / Creative Commons

Marijuana users across the state are claiming victory after the success of pro-pot ballot proposals in several Michigan cities.

Supporters say decriminalization of the drug in Flint, Grand Rapids, and Detroit shows that Michiganders are warming to the idea of a pot-friendly future.

But beyond symbolic value, how will these votes affect the way marijuana is managed and policed throughout the state?

Michigan Radio is venturing into the morass of overlapping local, state, and federal law to determine how the state manages weed.

We begin with a look at the new laws and how other Michigan towns have chosen to regulate marijuana.

user A7nubis / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Voters in several Michigan cities passed proposals to ease legal restrictions on marijuana. On Tuesday people in Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids voted overwhelmingly to make small amounts of marijuana okay to possess under city law. I’m not talking about the medical stuff here; this is just regular old pot.

"Prosecuting someone for peacefully using marijuana is about as ridiculous to me as prosecuting someone for sipping a vodka martini,” Tim Beck, chair of the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, said. Beck also worked to put Michigan’s medical marijuana laws in place.

Stateside: That status of Michigan's medical marijuana law

Oct 31, 2012
user Laughing Squid / Creative Commons

Nearly four years ago, Michigan voters approved the use of medical marijuana by 63% making Michigan one of 17 states permitting its usage.

The law removed state-level criminal penalties for using, possessing and growing marijuana by and for patients whose doctors have granted them medicinal usage of marijuana.

Throughout the past four years, however, the law has generated a considerable amount of confusion over who can grow marijuana and what its uses really are.

To assess where the law stands today, Stateside spoke with attorney Matthew Abel and Senator Rick Jones.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

No more Senate candidate debates

"It appears there will be no debate between Senator Debbie Stabenow and former Congressman Pete Hoekstra. Stabenow called off talks to schedule the debates, saying her opponent won't negotiate in good faith. Hoestra says Stabenow is afraid to debate him. Senate candidates usually hold at least two debates. One debate has traditionally been held at the Detroit Economic Club. Hoekstra says the sticking point was holding debates in a medium that lots of voters could see. Hoekstra says he wanted debates on major TV networks," Tracy Samilton reports.

Meningitis cases continue to rise in Michigan

"There’s been a big jump in the number of people in Michigan affected by that national fungal meningitis outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control says 39 people in Michigan have contracted fungal meningitis from tainted steroid injections. Just Wednesday there were only 28 confirmed cases in Michigan. Three Michigan women have died since receiving the injections which were intended to treat back pain," Steve Carmody reports.

Medical Marijuana discussed in Michigan Supreme Court

"The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether the state’s medical marijuana law allows dispensaries and growing cooperatives. The court heard arguments in two medical marijuana cases today Thursday. Prosecutors say patients have to either grow their own, or get it from a licensed caregiver. Prosecutors say patients have to either grow their own, or get it from a licensed caregiver. The operators of a marijuana dispensary are challenging the county’s decision to shut down their operation. A man who ran a growing cooperative is also trying to fend off a charge that he exceeded the 12-plant limit in the law. The court is expected to rule in coming months. In the meantime, the Legislature is also looking at adding some definition to the medical marijuana law that was approved by voters in 2008," Rick Pluta reports.

user elioja / Flickr

The future of medical marijuana dispensaries and growing cooperatives are on the line with two cases before the Michigan Supreme Court. The court heard arguments on those cases Thursday.

Isabella County Prosecutor Risa Scully said the medical marijuana act does not allow dispensaries where patients can share marijuana with each other.

“The act clearly delineates two methods in which a qualified patient may obtain their marijuana—they may grow it themselves or they may designate a caregiver to grow it for them,” Scully said.

The Michigan Supreme Court opens its 2012 session this week.
Subterranean / Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court formally opens its 2012 session this week.

Its first cases deal with no-fault insurance benefits, Michigan’s open meetings law, and medical marijuana.      

The first arguments of the court’s session will be on the case of a woman who wants her auto no-fault coverage to pay for her treatments for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

She was diagnosed after witnessing her son’s death in a motorcycle accident. She was following him in her car when he was struck by another vehicle.

Rina Miller talks with Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry this week about the ballot proposals that were approved, the results of the special primary in Michigan's 11th congressional district and what happens now, and the medical marijuana debate in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Three ballot proposals approved

Michigan voters will decide on six ballot proposals in November. The state Supreme Court rejected challenges to three out of four proposed amendments yesterday. The court approved amendments to guarantee collective bargaining rights, to require two-thirds super-majority votes in the Legislature to increase taxes, and statewide votes for any future international bridges to Canada. The proposal to authorize eight more casinos in the state was not approved.

Bentivolio wins primary in 11th disctrict

Former teacher Kerry Bentivolio won the special primary election in Michigan’s eleventh district. Bentivolio was one of four Republicans vying to complete the remainder of Thaddeus McCotter’s term in Congress. He'll face Democrat David Curson in the special general election to decide who serve the remaining few weeks in McCotter’s term. McCotter resigned in July after it was discovered that petition signatures were forged or copied in at least two of his campaigns.

Medical marijuana debate in Wyoming, Mich.

The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming is challenging a judge’s ruling that overturned its ban on medical marijuana. The Wyoming City Manager says city council worries that medical marijuana will increase crime and cause confusion for police. Michigan’s Court of Appeals struck down Wyoming’s medical marijuana ban last month. The court says any prosecution under federal laws would be up to the federal government, not local governments.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming will appeal a judge’s ruling that overturned its ban of medical marijuana. Wyoming is one of a handful of Michigan cities with an outright medical marijuanna ban. Others have instituted zoning restrictions.

Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt says city council worries that medical marijuana will increase crime and cause confusion for police.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

City of Wyoming cannot ban medical marijuana

Michigan’s Court of Appeals has struck down a city ordinance banning medical marijuana. The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming is one of a few local governments that has banned medical marijuana – citing federal drug laws. A Wyoming resident and medical marijuana patient sued the city. Yesterday the Court of Appeals ruled cities cannot ban medical marijuana because state law allows it. The judges say any prosecution under federal laws would be up to the federal government, not local governments. A similar case against the City of Birmingham in metro Detroit is pending.

Search for Asian carp in Lake Erie

Scientists have begun searching two of western Lake Erie's bays and tributary rivers for signs of dreaded Asian carp. Officials announced last month that DNA from bighead and silver carp had been detected in Lake Erie water samples taken a year ago. They said the six positive hits among more than 400 samples they examined didn't necessarily mean the invasive fish have established a population in the lake. Natural resource departments in Michigan and Ohio are teaming with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take a closer look. Crews are collecting water this week in the Sandusky River and Bay and the Maumee River and Bay, in the same areas where the positive samples were taken in 2011. Next week, they will use electroshocking and netting to catch fish.

Juvenile lifers

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says hundreds of juveniles sentenced to life without parole for murder or complicity in a murder should not get re-sentencing hearings. Schuette says a U-S Supreme Court ruling that struck down Michigan’s mandatory life without parole law for juveniles should only apply to future cases. He has asked the state Supreme Court to limit the scope of the federal decision.
Deborah LaBelle is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. She says if Schuette prevails, the effect would be catastrophic on people sent to prison as juveniles who were not given a fair shake by the system. Schuette says it’s not fair that murder victims’ families would have to return to court for re-sentencing hearings after they were assured their cases were over. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Court of Appeals has struck down a city ordinance banning medical marijuana. Supporters of the voter approved medical marijuana law are calling it a huge victory.

The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming is one of several Michigan cities or townships that have restricted the medical marijuana act voters passed in 2008.

Wyoming resident and medical marijuana patient John Ter Beek sued the city in 2010. Shortly after the ACLU joined the case.

eggrole / flickr

An opinion today by the state Supreme Court adds some definition to Michigan’s 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law.

The court made a series of rulings on what’s allowed for defendants who’ve been  charged with drug crimes and don’t have a state- issued medical marijuana card. The court says a doctor’s diagnosis is a defense for someone charged with possessing marijuana without a medical marijuana card.

But the Supreme Court says there are limits. The court says there’s no going to a doctor after being busted for a diagnosis that a patient would benefit from medical marijuana. And a diagnosis has to have been made after voters approved the law.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan has issued medical marijuana cards covering 44 children. Most are teenagers, but three of them are under 10 years old.

Eggrole / Flickr

In this week's edition of It's Just Politics, Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network and I take on the politics of pot. It's a hazy situation and an issue that's getting chronic attention in the state (okay, okay, enough with the drug innuendo).

Where things stand

In 2008 voters – by a pretty large margin - voted to make medical marijuana legal in the state. But, the law is confusing. Not only is there the fact that it’s still illegal under federal law, there are also questions about if and how dispensaries should be regulated; the medical conditions for which  medical marijuana should be prescribed; the size and location of marijuana plants that one is allowed to grow... I could go on and on.

Pluta: Exactly… there are more questions than answers when it comes to this law because it is so vague. So, this week, we’ve seen some measures to add clarity to the law. But, because this law was a voter-initiated and approved law, to  change it, any measure has to have a three fourths majority in both the state House and Senate. Something that’s not in this package is dispensaries – that’s in court right now, but some lawmakers don’t want to wait for a state Supreme Court ruling. They say dispensaries could cure some problems – especially what to do when someone who is legally growing marijuana has more weed than they can use. 

Clark: So, just this week state Representative Mike Callton introduced a measure to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries. But, Callton says he was against the medical marijuana law that passed in 2008.

Collton: “…I think what voters passed is nuts, just crazy insane.”

Pluta: So, why is he introducing this then?

Clark: That is, indeed the question.

Pluta: Callton and some others say it would be better for dispensaries to buy up, or otherwise take possession of, surplus pot instead of having it sold illegally on the street. There’s a division, though. Some Republicans basically consider dispensaries legalized dope dens.

Clark: So, that’s a debate that will take place probably this summer on dispensaries. What’s moving right now would require in-person doctor’s visits to get a medical marijuana card, a picture I.D., and police access to medical marijuana records.

Pluta: Medical marijuana advocates say some of this goes too far. In a couple of instances, it reverses what voters approved in the medical marijuana law and, so, they’re trying again. There is a petition drive in the field to put a question on the ballot to make Michigan a legalized marijuana state.  We’ll see if they can get enough signatures.

user Laughing Squid / Creative Commons

The Michigan House passed a package of bills aimed at clarifying the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law.

The four bills passed by the House now go to the Michigan Senate.

The Detroit Free Press reports the bills passed with support from both Republicans and Democrats:

The bills were adopted on broad, bi-partisan votes, clearing the three-fourths majority hurdle needed to amend the law approved by Michigan voters in 2008. Similar majorities will be needed for approval in the state Senate, however, before the changes would become effective.

MLive reports protestors have demonstrated at the Capitol in Lansing, arguing the package of bills infringe on patients' rights.

"You are never going to appease everyone," said Rep. Phil Cavanagh, D-Redford Township. "That’s why I have confidence that everybody is a little disappointed in the language in the four bills, yet I believe it’s a good compromise and I believe that these clarify the voters intent the best we could."

Here are links to the four bills passed by the Michigan House of Representatives today:

Eggrole / Flickr

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.

Pages