Pubdate: Tue, 07 Apr 2015
Source: Detroit News (MI)
Copyright: 2015 The Detroit News


Legal Patients Deserve Clear, Fair Interpretation of Rules to Avoid 
Unintentionally Running Afoul of the Law

Bills to legalize marijuana dispensaries and products that serve the 
state's medical marijuana patients have been lingering in the 
Legislature. They should be a priority for lawmakers this year.

The bills would provide clarity and protection for the state's 96,000 
legal medical marijuana patients.

Michigan's 2008 Medical Marijuana Act legalized use of the drug for 
medical patients by a large margin, with 63 percent of voters 
approving. But despite the law - and growing tolerance statewide for 
even broader marijuana use - Michigan ambiguously regulates the industry.

That's unfair to the patients in the state seeking safe, legal ways 
to obtain different forms of the drug, and in protected locations. 
It's also a challenge for law enforcement officials, who are unsure 
how to proceed under the state's confusing rules.

The bills were reintroduced in February after stalling out during 
last year's lame-duck session. Similar forms of the bills have been 
introduced since 2012.

Currently, Michigan law only protects smoking forms of the drug, but 
not edibles or topical applications, such as oils. Additionally, 
dispensaries that sell marijuana products - also called "provisioning 
centers" - are legally unprotected. This leaves patients who need 
those forms of the drug, including children, with few legal options.

All forms of the medicine should be equally protected, particularly 
as non-smoking forms of the drug are safer than many smokable forms, 
which are fully legal. And patients rely on these forms of the drug 
to treat serious and debilitating diseases.

Legalizing dispensaries would also clarify safe access points for 
those who need the medicine. Currently, patients are supposed to 
obtain medicine only from a qualified caregiver, who is restricted to 
working with no more than five patients.

Caregivers can be hard to find, and that system provides less 
regulation and fewer safety precautions than would a system of 
regulated, legal dispensaries.

Despite their foggy legal status, dispensaries are scattered around 
the state. Already 13 Michigan cities whose residents have approved 
local ordinances allowing recreational marijuana use have them, and 
in Detroit there are 180 centers.

These centers should first and foremost serve the needs of medical 
marijuana patients, who have a legal right to the drug. And if a 
community decides it doesn't want a dispensary, the legislation 
rightly allows for it to opt out.

The Michigan Sheriffs Association came out strongly against the bills 
last year, citing a "profit motive" as a reason to prevent their 
passage, and also argued there isn't enough personnel to properly 
enforce new regulations and keep it away from children.

Surely the drug should be kept out of the hands of children, and 
fully regulating provisioning centers would go a long way to ensuring 
patients, not kids, have access.

Further, there's no more profit motive for marijuana than there is 
for prescription drugs, which are generally abused to a greater 
extent, and more fatal.

The Legislature and Michigan Supreme Court have kept the state's 
medical marijuana program ambiguous for years, leaving those who need 
to use the system properly in limbo, and often in fear of being arrested.

It's time to clarify the legal rights of medical marijuana patients 
in the state by acting on these bills.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom