Pubdate: Sun, 3 Apr 2011
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copyright: 2011 Detroit Free Press
Author: Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
Referenced: Michigan Marihuana Act
Related: Editorial "Bringing Clarity to Michigan's Medical Marijuana 
Law" in the same issue.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Michigan)


Almost nobody likes the unwieldy Michigan Medical Marihuana Act -- 
right down to its spelling of marijuana with an "H."

The law is written without clarity on some key issues, such as what 
constitutes a bonafide doctor-patient relationship and the conditions 
under which marijuana cultivation is permitted.

Unless clarifying legislation is enacted, enforcement of the law will 
largely depend on what Michigan courts rule in cases brought by 
prosecutors and patients. Since 2009, lower courts have issued a 
multitude of sometimes-conflicting decisions about how much 
protection from prosecution the law provides for marijuana users, 
growers and sellers.

At the same time, the attitude of law enforcement officials toward 
medical marijuana varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Last week, the murky law had several key state lawmakers vowing to 
fix it once the budget debates end, and Attorney General Bill 
Schuette was filing briefs with the Michigan Supreme Court and Court 
of Appeals in cases of patients accused of abusing the act.

"We are getting slammed from every direction," said Steve Greene, 43, 
of South Lyon.

Greene is a medical marijuana patient whose home was raided twice by 
police. He launched a weekly radio show at noon Saturday, called 
"High Noon," on WDTW-AM (1310) -- on which he hopes to rally 
political support for wider access to the drug.

Not so fast, Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said.

"Our concern is the crime this is causing, and our concern is the 
kids," Cooper said.

Budding Momentum for Changing Michigan Medical Marijuana Law

When Colorado voters passed a ballot proposal to allow medical 
marijuana in 2000, they unleashed problems like those sprouting in Michigan.

There were frequent police raids to arrest patients accused of being 
drug dealers. And Colorado had hundreds of medical marijuana sales 
outlets "popping up all over the state -- people in the cannabis 
business with no regulatory oversight," said Matt Cook, director of 
enforcement in the Colorado Department of Revenue.

That all changed in July 2010, when state lawmakers passed 
regulations. In the eight months since, the state licensed 816 sales 
outlets -- called dispensaries -- along with 1,237 growers and 321 
"infused-products makers" of marijuana-laced foods, oils and 
ointments. Colorado has brought in $8.2 million in fees in that time, 
Cook said.

"We have a very good relationship with all law enforcement in 
Colorado. They told us, 'As long as people are compliant with the 
laws, we're not going to target them,' " he said.

In Michigan, lawmakers from both parties want to make similar repairs 
to the Medical Marihuana Act, which was passed by state voters in 2008.

"The voters spoke (and) the first try was not quite right, but now we 
can get it right," state Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, 
said last week. She spent the last year discussing medical marijuana 
with a task force of stakeholders, Lipton said.

"There are situations where people have contacted the Oakland County 
Sheriff's Office with questions and the answer was, 'We don't have to 
give you an answer because the statute is so messed up,' " she said.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard and other law enforcement 
officials have said repeatedly that the act is rife with loopholes, 
and Bouchard's investigators have testified that they found 
widespread evidence of drug dealing. Michigan's top law enforcer -- 
Attorney General Bill Schuette -- filed briefs Monday in cases 
against patients from Oakland and Isabella counties -- including one 
sent to the Michigan Supreme Court -- and issued a statement saying 
some Michiganders "are attempting to exploit the law to essentially 
legalize marijuana."

Yet patients bitterly complain of police harassment and the need for 
safe access to the drug.

"We need our rights spelled out, so law enforcement can't keep 
arresting people -- like me," said Adam Brook, 42, of Royal Oak. 
Brook -- who was prescribed marijuana for chronic back pain and 
thyroid cancer -- was arrested at his home in March for marijuana 
possession and intent to deliver the drug.

Brook served as emcee of Saturday's 40th annual Hash Bash in Ann 
Arbor, where thousands of pot fans gathered on the University of 
Michigan campus. This year, the event was to champion medical 
marijuana rights, Brook said.

So will a new weekly radio show called "High Noon," hosted by Steve 
Greene, 43, of Lyon Township. Greene grows marijuana varieties called 
Juicy Fruit and Super Lemon Haze in his home, which has been raided 
twice by police. His show launched at noon Saturday, with a live feed 
from the Hash Bash, on WDTW-AM (1310). "We're out to make history 
here" by pushing for changes in the law, Greene said.

Repealing or amending the act would require a three-quarters 
supermajority in both the state House and Senate, perhaps an 
impossible standard in the contentious Legislature.

But adding regulations to the act's existing language could be done 
with a simple majority, said state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. He 
is chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee and has 
introduced one bill with plans for more in order to fix the act.

"We've had everyone from police and prosecutors to patients and 
medical personnel and the Michigan Municipal League meeting on this," 
he said. "It's not a quick process. It's going to take a few weeks" 
to pass the regulations, once the debates on the state budget end, he said.

"I want to ban medical marijuana bars. We don't have Vicodin bars or 
Oxycodone bars," he said, naming two addictive painkillers frequently 
used by drug abusers. "If you need (medical marijuana), you (should) 
take it home and consume it," said Jones, a former Eaton County sheriff.

"I do feel some urgency" about improving the medical marijuana act, 
said state Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren. Bieda is on the Senate 
Judiciary Committee and has conferred with Jones. He said he wants to 
model changes after those in Colorado.

Because Michigan's act is vague, "we have local governments creating 
a patchwork of ordinances, so it's really time for (state lawmakers) 
to act," he said.

Adding regulations would also mean licensing revenues that could 
cover the costs of administering the law.

Before Colorado officials issue medical marijuana business licenses, 
"we do very in-depth background checks. Anyone going into business 
must be a Colorado resident for two years -- so we don't have 
outsiders doing this. They have to be 21. They cannot have any felony 
drug convictions, and must pay license fees of $7,500-$18,000 a 
year," Colorado Department of Revenue spokeswoman Julie Postlethwaite said.

It's time for similar regulations in Michigan, Oakland County 
Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said.

"We regulate alcohol. We regulate other medicines. There needs to be 
a significant regulatory apparatus" for medical marijuana, she said.




2008: Voters pass ballot proposal.

2009: Michigan Department of Community Health accepts first 
applications to be patients and caregivers (marijuana providers).

2010: About 100 cities, townships, villages and counties pass 
ordinances to regulate medical marijuana, citing abuse by users and 
gaps in state law. Police start arresting patients after traffic 
stops and raids on homes, provider shops and clubs.

March 2011: After 65,000 approval cards are issued, state has backlog 
of 50,000 applications.

April 2011: Scores of criminal cases against patients are in courts statewide.


2000: Voters pass ballot proposal.

2001-2009: Hundreds of unregulated marijuana providers open shops, 
many in residential areas. Police warn of drug dealing.

2010: Lawmakers pass rules requiring background checks of providers, 
licensing fees of up to $18,000 and audits to stop sales to non-patients.

April 2011: State has licensed 816 dispensaries, 1,237 growers and 
321 makers of drug-laced foods and oils, receiving $8.2 million in 
fees in the last eight months.  
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake