medical marijuana

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.

Marijuana plant.
bobdoran / Flickr

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.

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