Push To Fix Hazy Pot Law Grows

May 18, 2011

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.

[side­bar]

HOW MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAWS EVOLVED IN MICHIGAN AND COLORADO

[Michi­gan]

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.

[Col­orado]

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.

Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copy­right: 2011 Detroit Free Press
Con­tact: http://​www​.freep​.com/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​/​9​9​9​9​9​9​9​9​/​o​p​i​n​i​o​n​0​4​/​5​0​9​2​6​009
Web­site: http://​www​.freep​.com/
Author: Bill Lait­ner, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

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