Michigan’s medical marijuana program should be better regulated but is in peril because of a “serious perception problem” in Lansing and the legal system, Howell attorney Denise Pollicella said.
On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee took testimony from medical marijuana organizations on legislation that would create new requirements for registered medical marijuana patients.
Pollicella said the Republican-led Legislature is trying to revamp on a piecemeal basis what many consider a vague law.
“My overall take is that until medical cannabis begins to be viewed as an actual alternative form of medication first instead of as a controlled substance, ( an ) illicit substance … we are not going to get anywhere,” she said.
Pollicella was a business attorney for the former Marshall Alternatives medical marijuana dispensary in Handy Township, which was raided by LAWNET one year ago last Friday. Dispensary operators were charged with drug offenses.
The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act was enacted after voters in 2008 approved an initiative permitting the use and cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes.
The bipartisan bill package discussed Thursday — House Bills 4834, 4851, 4853 and 4856 — contain several proposals, including requiring photo identification on patient registry cards; defining a “bona fide physician-patient relationship” to include an in-person physical exam; and regulating the transportation of medical marijuana.
The bills would protect public safety while ensuring those in need of medical marijuana have access to it, said state Rep. Ben Glardon, R-Owosso.
Glardon sponsored the bill that would prohibit transportation of medical marijuana unless it is enclosed in a case or where it is inaccessible from inside a vehicle.
“Driving under the influence of this drug is already a crime, so it’s only common sense to set limits on motorists who use medical marijuana,” Glardon said in a statement.
Officials like Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, who opposed the 2008 initiative, have drowned out the voices of patients and caregivers, Pollicella said. Schuette has said the medical marijuana law “has been hijacked by drug dealers who want to make money, line their pockets and make a huge profit.”
Pollicella said the medical marijuana community has policed itself nearly seamlessly since the law was enacted. She said that has been made difficult by proposals that treat caregivers like “back-alley drug dealers,” rather than people delivering medicine to ailing patients.
She said the program has suffered from a lack of support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and from a failure by state officials to enforce its rules.
“I absolutely from the inside watched the medical marijuana industry-slash-community do a bang-up job of self-regulating to a point where it was a well-oiled, self-regulated machine where people were able to go to dispensaries” and purchase high-quality marijuana at reasonable prices, Pollicella said.
“I don’t think we need more legislation, and I don’t think we need any more bills. I think we need comprehensive, sensible regulation,” she added.
Tyrone Township resident John Macintosh is a registered medical marijuana patient to treat sciatica, a nerve ailment in the leg.
He said he supports some of the proposals, such as the photo identification measure, but is most concerned with how difficult it has become to obtain his medicine.
Macintosh said applicants from the start face an obstacle in receiving their registry cards. The law requires certifications to be received within 20 days, but it’s often about three months before they are in hand, he said.
He usually travels to Genesee County or Ann Arbor to obtain his marijuana because there is little, if any, access to certified facilities in Livingston County.
Of greatest concern is the rights of patients and certified caregivers who supply those patients, Macintosh said. He said a petition drive is being planned to get a proposal protecting medical marijuana patients on the November ballot.
“We’re basically against everything right now because they’re not helping the current issues as far as everything that they’re trying to change,” Macintosh said.
“These things need to change,” he added.
The state has admitted to a backlog on issuing registry identification cards. The law doesn’t allow the state to supply patients with seeds or starter plants, or give advice on how to grow medical marijuana.
It should be noted that marijuana remains an illegal substance in Michigan, and that medical marijuana patients are not protected from federal drug laws.
The legislative process is needed to update or change the medical marijuana law, state Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Genoa Township, said.
Rogers said he was initially flooded with calls from local and county government officials unsure how to enforce the medical marijuana law in their communities.
The issue has been debated heavily in Livingston County, particularly by local government officials unsure how the law applies to their zoning rules.
The law may need to be updated, in particular, to ensure medical marijuana is reaching those in need of it to treat chronic ailments, Rogers said.
“You want to make sure that’s what’s really transpiring,” he said.
Rogers said he’s particularly concerned about the potential of medical marijuana patients getting behind the wheel under the influence of the controlled substance.
He said it’s unclear if those using marijuana legally to treat ailments would face the same charges as drivers who use the drug illegally and are pulled over.
“These are the kinds of questions that I will be asking,” Rogers said.
News Hawk – 420 Warrior 420 MAGAZINE
Source: Livingston Daily Press Argus
Author: Christopher Behnan
Copyright: 2012 Livingston Daily Press Argus