Pubdate: Wed, 03 Dec 2014
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2014 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


Two bills to watch

Big things are afoot for medical marijuana in Michigan right now. At 
least that's what most activists who have their eyes on Lansing believe.

House Bills 4271 and 5104 are widely expected to be passed during the 
lame duck session before Dec. 18. I'm not a big fan of lame duck 
legislation in recent years when such things as a Right-to Work bill 
and anti-abortion legislation have been pushed through. These bills 
are, however, welcome for the majority of medical marijuana patients.

HB 4271 is an amendment to the original Michigan Medical Marihuana 
Act (MMMA) that would allow so-called provisioning centers in cities 
that chose to have them. Any city can choose not to allow them. A 
provisioning center is a place where patients can purchase medical 
marijuana. They call them dispensaries in other states but since that 
word has been controversial, the folks in Lansing have changed the 
language. But as Shakespeare famously wrote, "A rose by any other 
name would smell as sweet.

Anyone with eyes to read the signs in their area knows that 
dispensaries are operating. However, many hedge the issue by calling 
themselves compassion clubs and having memberships instead of selling 
to anyone who walks in the door with a state registration card. Some 
counties are more tolerant than others. Having HB 4271 would level 
the playing field and standardize the rules.

HB 5104 would allow patients to have edible products infused with 
marijuana oils and butters. Currently, based on a 2013 state Court of 
Appeals ruling, certain edible products are illegal. The need to 
change this is important because many medical marijuana patients do 
not want to smoke their medication. Also, for some ailments it's 
nearly impossible to get a therapeutic dose of cannabinoids the 
active chemicals in marijuana - from smoking it. Higher 
concentrations of cannabinoids can be achieved in these infusions.

 From the start, headlines and opponents of the MMMA referred to the 
law as "hazy," leaving municipalities and law enforcement unclear 
about how to enact and enforce the law. Legislators and patient 
advocates have been negotiating on the language of these bills for 
several months.

"They will make things crystal clear for everybody, including law 
enforcement," says Robin Schneider, legislative liaison for the 
National Patient Rights Association. "The NPRA has participated in 
multiple working group meetings in the Senate. We feel that we are 
all very close to being in agreement in what needs to be in the bills 
moving forward. Right now we don't have any consistency out there. 
What this does is it clarifies who can operate a provisioning center, 
what criteria they have to meet, and they have to be licensed. There 
won't be any more operating in gray area."

There was a working group meeting on Monday, when legislators 
presented their final language for consideration. There is some 
urgency for legislators and activists to get this done now. It seems 
like the votes are there, and with a new legislature coming in the 
New Year, if it's not done they'll have to start all over with new 
bills. Senate majority leader Randy Richardville, who supports these 
laws, is term-limited, and incoming leader Arlan Meekhof was the lone 
vote against the bills in committee. There would have to be major 
wooing of him to get anywhere in the next session. Incoming Speaker 
of the House Kevin Cotter has already said he doesn't want to deal 
with the issue next year.

Now is the time if this is going to be resolved without major machinations.

"I think it's going to go, in what form, no one knows yet," says Dave 
Brogren, president of Cannabis Patients United, who has a seat at the 
table in these talks. "I'm cautiously optimistic. My major concern is 
not screwing up the original MMMA."

The real winners in this will be patients who have not been able to 
easily access medication, particularly concentrated products such as 
the oils used by patients to control epileptic seizures.

"There's a lot of urgency coming from patients," says Schneider. "The 
pediatric patients especially need the liquid form. They can't be 
smoking marijuana. A lot of people operating outside of the law are 
in desperate need of legal protection as soon as possible. They need 
consistent access to medicine. They need strains that have been tested."

Legal access to infused products could have made the difference for 
police officer Tim Bernhardt. Bernhardt was a 22-year Kent County 
Sheriff's Dept. officer and medical marijuana patient who committed 
suicide early last week while awaiting sentencing for charges related 
to his use of pot-infused butter to make brownies. He faced up to two 
years' imprisonment and $25,000 in fines. It didn't have to happen. 
The irony is that it would have been perfectly legal for Bernhardt to 
grind up marijuana buds and put that in the brownies. However, making 
infused butter and putting that in the brownies isn't.

That's why the provision in HB 5104 is so desperately needed. If it 
passes, "By April 1, you will have statewide clarity for how infused 
products are viewed and allowed," says Jamie Lowell, chair of the 
Michigan Chapter of Americans for Safe Access and proprietor of Third 
Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti. "It's taken three years and 
been introduced twice. It's taken a lot of work from all of the 
stakeholders. ... It will involve local communities, and provisioning 
centers and testing labs will be regulated on a statewide level. "

That's a long way from growing your own, but a lot of people can't do 
that. In addition to getting everyone on the same page and allowing 
patients better access to their medicinal needs, it will hopefully 
lead to fewer arrests of people who believe they are following the 
law. In the case of Sgt. Bernhardt, it turned tragic. That's one kind 
of tragedy we can eliminate with some common-sense actions.

Alysa Erwin update: Erwin, who turned 18 in early October, represents 
a tragedy avoided. This teenager has been fighting brain cancer with 
hemp oil since she was 14 years old. She was in remission for two 
years, but after she was unable to get a consistent supply of the oil 
it came back with a vengeance, spreading into other areas and into 
her spinal fluid. Back in July, the teenager's parents were told that 
she had but a few weeks to live. However, she got better when her 
parents were able to get more medication. A recent MRI taken at the 
CS Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor has confirmed that Erwin's 
cancer is abating and her tumors are shrinking. When Erwin was first 
diagnosed, doctors estimated she had 18 to 24 months to live with 
chemotherapy treatments. She stopped the debilitating chemo and went 
on hemp oil. She was declared cancer-free about the time she was 
expected to die. Now what Alysa needs is for the medical 
establishment to get on board and help her and her parents in 
figuring out how to best use the hemp oil in her treatments.
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