Pubdate: Sun, 26 Apr 2009
Source: Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (MI)
Copyright: 2009 Livingston Daily Press & Argus
Author: Lisa Roose-Church, Daily Press & Argus
(Marijuana - Medicinal)
ISSUES LINGER AS PATIENTS SEEK MEDICAL MARIJUANA
As the first state-issued medical marijuana identification cards were mailed out, local law enforcement remains concerned about the law's loopholes and inconsistencies.
Those gray areas already are being tested, including one case in Livingston County in which an attorney will appeal a judge's decision that the state's new medical marijuana law does not retroactively apply to his client, who allegedly grew marijuana in his backyard for medicinal purposes.
"The way the law is written, it's a terrible, terrible law," Howell Police Chief George Basar said. "Various pieces of this law will end up in litigation for years."
Michigan's medical marijuana law went into effect in December, making Michigan the 13th state to embrace the controversial pain treatment. Sixty-three percent of the state's voters said yes to the law.
The law took full effect this month, as the Michigan Department of Community Health began processing applications for state identification cards needed to verify a person was using marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The department received 16 applications for the medical marijuana identification card during the April 4 weekend the cards became available. Two weeks later, the state had received 483 applications -- an average of 54 applications per day.
As of Friday, the state had received 810 applications. Of that number, 150 people were approved for state-issued IDs, which were mailed Friday. Twenty-eight people had been denied for reasons including not providing the proper Social Security number; not signing the application; not having proper medical documentation; and not having the proper ailment as outlined under the law, said health department spokesman James McCurtis Jr.
Paul Stanford, executive director and founder of the nonprofit group that runs The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation Medical Clinic in Southfield, said the bill's passage shows that marijuana for medical purposes is not controversial to the public.
"It's better than alcohol; it's much safer than alcohol," he said. "When marijuana is taxed and regulated, industrial hemp will return to its rightful place in the community."
Basar, who is the president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said proponents of the issue tugged on the heartstrings of Michigan residents, who didn't read the law well enough to understand the pitfalls. Residents believed "if it makes a patient feel better, OK," he said.
"It's a very, very small segment of the population that may or may not have a medical need, and there's another way to address that medical need than smoking marijuana," Basar said.
Former Livingston County resident Stephanie Annis, who has suffered from chronic pain for 10 years, disagrees.
Annis, 30, who now lives in New Hudson, has Crohn's disease, which is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. She said she has taken a number of medications a month that "could fill a cereal bowl," and tried Marinol, a prescription medication comprised of synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana. She says the pill form is "much stronger than the natural herb."
"When you deal with chronic illness, it can be debilitating," Annis said.
Brighton resident Douglas Orton said he finds that marijuana has helped him manage his hepatitis C.
"I find it alleviates the pain," he said. "I'm more sociable and able to get out and talk to people. It has helped me in numerous ways."
Qualifying patients under Michigan's law are those who have a debilitating medical condition such as cancer, HIV or AIDS.
Michigan's medical marijuana law allows a patient, with a doctor's recommendation, to register through the MDCH to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked facility, such as a closet, room or other enclosed area.
A caregiver can cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants per patient. Each caregiver is limited to five patients.
Law enforcement officials have issues with the amount of marijuana allowed. Narcotics officers estimate each plant can produce 1 pound of marijuana, an amount that fills a large freezer bag, while an estimated 1 ounce of marijuana can fit into a sandwich bag.
"That's far more than an individual can use," Basar said. "What happens to the excess?"
There also are inconsistencies in the state's law.
While patients can legally grow up to 12 plants, they cannot legally obtain the seeds or first plant to grow what they need for medical purposes.
"It would seem to me if the base material is illegal, is not the whole crop illegal?" Basar asked.
Unlike California's law, Michigan will have no public dispensaries that sell marijuana, but there is a Farmington Hills business -- traintogrow.com -- that is a seminar-style training session that advertises hands-on cultivation training. The first training session will be held from 6-10 p.m. Monday at the Hilton hotel in Novi. The fee is $100.
R. Vandenbrook, former adjunct professor at Oakland Community College and owner of traintogrow.com, said participants will learn more about the law as well as cultivating marijuana.
"I'm going to teach other people how to grow it and how to cultivate," he said. "I'm a patient who can help other patients."
Vandenbrook, who says he suffers from Type 2 diabetes and a herniated disc, is trying to establish the MaryJane University, which he says will offer a curriculum including classes geared toward caregivers and how to use marijuana in food.
Basar said defining some areas of the law, however, are going to be problematic. For example, he said, homeless people can get medical marijuana as defined under the law. However, the chief noted, how can homeless people ensure that their marijuana will be enclosed in a locked facility as required under the law?
Another loophole, Basar said, is a provision that says if a person is caught with marijuana and later claims to need it for medical reasons, that person can apply for the state ID and, if granted, be protected from prosecution.
That is the defense both Hartland Township resident Ryan Andrew Burke is pursuing in Livingston County Circuit Court and Robert Dickson is pursuing in the Macomb County community of Chesterfield Township.
Burke, 23, is charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, a four-year felony; and a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana after undercover narcotics officers received a tip Aug. 18 that he was growing marijuana in his home. His attorney says the marijuana is needed for medical purposes, but Circuit Judge David Reader said the law did not retroactively apply to Burke's case.
However, in a separate case in Tuscola County, a judge ruled in February that the law did apply retroactively.
Dickson, 53, was arrested in May for marijuana possession and his case has been adjourned for 30 days while he applies for his ID card.
Livingston County Undersheriff Michael Murphy said there also is concern about the potential for fraudulently reproducing the state-issued identification card and whether officers can verify just who is legally able to possess marijuana.
"This whole thing is going to be a mess," he said. "With a concealed pistol license, we can check LEIN (the Law Enforcement Information Network) to show whether it's valid or not. I'm not sure that is the case with the (medical marijuana) IDs.
"It's not going to be obvious in every case, like if I pull you over and you have 6 pounds of marijuana," Murphy said. "If you've got 2.6 (ounces) and the law said 2.5 (ounces), are you going to jail? Probably not. Will we send it to the lab? Yes. Are we going to submit for charges? Yes."
McCurtis acknowledged "there's a lot being worked out with this particular law," but he said state officials are working to create a program that will allow law enforcement to enter a registration number in an effort to verify if the person is legally able to possess marijuana. The information, however, will not be available to the general public.
Until that system is in place, McCurtis said, "The best thing law enforcement can do is to call us 8 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) to be sure someone is registered."
Basar also questioned how police are to determine whether a person's letter from their doctor recommending they be allowed to use marijuana for medical reasons is valid.
Murphy said a lot of issues with the law most likely won't be known until someone challenges the state law versus federal law, which still bans the use, possession and sale of marijuana anywhere in the United States.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed Congress' authority to regulate the use of potentially harmful substances -- including marijuana -- through the federal Controlled Substance Act.
"This is the nose under the tent to the legalization of marijuana," Basar said about Michigan's medical marijuana law.
Annis happily agreed.
"We need to have a legal supplier and maybe even tax it for the sake of helping our economy," she said. "This law is basically the first step in a long process."
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
Highlights of Michigan's Medical Marijuana Act:
A qualifying patient cannot possess more than 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana.
Allows qualifying patients or their caregivers to cultivate their own marijuana, defined as no more than 12 marijuana plants, for medical use.
The 12 marijuana plants must be kept in an enclosed, locked facility.
Any registered qualifying patient or registered primary caregiver who sells marijuana to someone who is not allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes shall have his or her registry identification card revoked. Those individuals can be found guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than two years and a fine of up to $2,000, in addition to any other penalties for the distribution.
Source: Michigan Department of Community Health
CONDITIONS FOR WHICH MEDICAL MARIJUANA MAY BE USED:
# Hepatitis C
# Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
# Crohn's disease
# Nail patella
# Cachexia or wasting syndrome
# Severe and chronic pain
# Severe nausea
# Seizures, including but not limited to epilepsy
# Severe, persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to multiple sclerosis
CLUBS AIM TO ADDRESS CONFUSION ABOUT MEDICAL MARIJUANA
Area "compassion clubs" are forming to address confusion about medical marijuana.
In Livingston County, the Brighton Area Compassion Club includes patients and caregivers who discuss issues that affect the medical marijuana community in Michigan.
"We want to make sure those who need the medicine can find it, and the reason we put together the compassion clubs was to facilitate teaching people how the law works and to keep our members within the law," said Douglas Orton, club moderator.
The club was formed two months ago as a support network, and about 40 people attended a club meeting this month.
Topics discussed include the law, how to become a qualifying patient, how to find a caregiver and how to grow marijuana. The meetings are not for exchanging marijuana plants, but to encourage participants to form friendships and network to share knowledge.
Orton, who has applied for his state identification card to use marijuana as treatment for his hepatitis C, said the group hopes to meet the first Sunday of each month, provided the venue is available.
The club next meets at 6:30 p.m. May 14 at the Brighton Library, 100 Library Road. Meetings last about 90 minutes.
Meetings are open to the general public, but participants must be 18 or older, or be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.