Pubdate: Thu, 23 Dec 2010
Source: Battle Creek Enquirer (MI)
Copyright: 2010 Battle Creek Enquirer
Author: Mike Householder, Associated Press
Note: Enquirer reporter Barrett Newkirk contributed to this story.


Arrests, Firings Follow 2008 Bill

Michigan's two-year-old law allowing the use of marijuana for medical 
purposes is leaving communities, courts, patients and police locked 
in disputes over what is legal and what isn't.

Many patients who have the state's OK to use marijuana to ease their 
pain from conditions ranging from cancer to Crohn's disease have been 
arrested and others have been fired because of different 
interpretations of the law approved by Michigan voters in late 2008. 
Courts face a rash of medical marijuana cases, with the law raising 
so many questions one state appeals court judge described reading it 
as a "maze."

Local governments are jumping in and passing their own ordinances, 
mostly trying to limit, ban or regulate a wave of businesses popping 
up to grow and sell the drug.

In Battle Creek, a moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses 
will likely be extended another six months. City officials hope more 
time will bring clarity to the state law.

A similar freeze in Marshall is set to expire in late January. City 
Attorney Paul Beardslee said the Marshall City Council could take one 
of several approaches, including letting the moratorium expire, but 
he said he wouldn't be surprised if Marshall also lengthened its 
moratorium because of the uncertainly surrounding the state statute.

"It raises as many questions as it answers," Beardslee said.

Michigan isn't alone in trying to sort out hazy medical marijuana 
laws. Fourteen other states have similar statutes -- prompting raids 
and debate over local regulations in California, disputes over which 
doctors can recommend pot in Colorado and fights over proposed 
regulations in New Jersey.

Many of the clashes are between medical marijuana advocates who say 
they're acting within the law and police who say they aren't. Adding 
to the tension is federal law that continues to ban the use and 
possession of marijuana. Although it won't be a top priority for 
lawmakers in a state swamped by economic and state government budget 
problems, Michigan's next Legislature likely will devote some time to 
clarifying the law.

Ari Adler, a spokesman for incoming Republican House Speaker Jase 
Bolger, said "the level of confusion" that exists related to the law 
likely will prompt the new Legislature to address it during the 
2011-12 session.

Michigan's more than 45,000 licensed medical marijuana patients can 
possess up to 2-1/2 ounces of usable marijuana and have up to 12 
plants kept in an enclosed, locked facility -- or have a registered 
caregiver grow the drug for them.

Some police agencies want a better system to verify the authenticity 
of authorization cards. Physicians must certify patients would 
benefit from the pain-reducing aspects of marijuana, but it's left to 
the patients to register with the state and to self-regulate the 
amount and quality of the drug they take.

"There is absolutely no connection to medicine and what's going on 
with medical marijuana right now," said Oakland County Sheriff Mike 
Bouchard. "You don't have a required patient-doctor relationship. You 
don't go to a state-licensed, inspected and regulated facility like a 
pharmacy. ... It's creating already a lot of problems and a lot of 

Advocates of medical marijuana say nothing in the law prohibits 
dispensaries and collective growing facilities, and that communities 
are ignoring the will of Michigan voters by cracking down on those 
businesses. Advocates of the law say it's broad by design to protect 
a wide range of activities.

Many Michigan communities have said state law isn't clear or is 
largely silent on how the drug can be grown and distributed by anyone 
other than patients or caregivers, or how plants and seeds can be 
bought in the first place.

Officials in Battle Creek grappled with the dispensing issue before 
deciding to hold off on approving any ordinances regulating medical marijuana.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the southeastern Michigan 
cities of Livonia, Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills and joined a 
lawsuit against the west Michigan city of Wyoming over policies it 
says effectively ban the use of medical marijuana.

Local governments counter that they are trying to make sure illegal 
drug dealing and other crimes don't take place in the absence of a 
clear state law.

Individual patients also have run into trouble with police or 
employers. Joseph Casias, authorized by the state to use marijuana 
because of pain associated with cancer, lost his job at a Wal-Mart 
store in Battle Creek in 2009 after testing positive for pot. He's 
battling the company in court.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake