Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Legal marijuana poses pot puzzle
Growing plants for medical purposes will be legal - but having seeds won't
Though medical marijuana soon will be legal in Michigan, patients and their caregivers still will have to break the law to get it, at least the first time.
Proposal 1 will allow approved patients and their caretakers to possess and grow the drug, but there won't be a legal way to get marijuana seeds or seedlings.
"How do you get from point A to point B? There is no law that protects you there," said James McCurtis, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health, "and we are not giving any advice on how you get your marijuana."
It's a gray area that's common to most of the 13 states that have passed medical marijuana initiatives. California is alone in allowing "dispensaries" to sell marijuana on a nonprofit basis.
And "like many things in the world that happen in a legal gray area, it seems to happen without a great deal of difficulty," said Bruce Mirken, communications director at the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.
"It's unfortunate that there are limits right now to what a state can do," he added.
With the possession, distribution and sale of marijuana still illegal under federal law," Mirken said, "If you set up a full scale distribution system for seeds or seedlings, you run the risk of running afoul of the feds."
Lynn Allen is getting ready to cultivate his own marijuana plants.
The 52-year-old Williamston man, who has the bleeding disorder hemophilia and HIV, contracted from a tainted blood transfusion, bought a book. He is researching which strains of marijuana might work best for his condition.
But the lack of protection for those buying seeds "does disturb me a bit," he said. "I don't know offhand how we'll deal with that unless they turn a blind eye to it."
That's something that Lansing Police Chief Mark Alley said he won't do.
"We don't plan on turning our backs on illegal behavior," he said.
Still, there are apparently plenty of people in the state interested in participating in the program.
"We've been getting calls ever since Nov. 5," McCurtis said, "because a lot of people think the day after the election that the law goes into effect right away.
It doesn't. The Department of Community Health has until April 4 to put rules in place for administering the program. After that, it will take another 20 days or so to process the first requests, McCurtis said.
Danny Trevino has seen some of the eagerness. The owner of Hydroworld Hydroponics, a Lansing shop that sells hydroponic equipment, fertilizer, and high output gardening lights, he said, when Proposal 1 passed, "I got busy."
It's a business opportunity Trevino, 36, isn't going to miss. He's had T-shirts made that say "Medical Marijuana Specialist." He plans to start teaching classes on how to grow, using plastic plants.
But asked whether he hoped to serve as a caregiver - the law allows designated caregivers to grow marijuana for up to five patients - Trevino replied, "I'll probably be a patient instead."
But it won't be that easy. Proposal 1 specifies which diseases and symptoms make a patient eligible for the program. To obtain a registry card, patients will need written certification from a physician that they qualify. Because marijuana is not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, doctors can't prescribe it. Caregivers will need to apply as well.
And McCurtis said, "we need to dig deeper. It may require us to go through medical records, but I don't know that until we actually get the rules set in stone."
The fees for the program still need to be worked out, McCurtis said, but the plan is that it will be self-sustaining, requiring no additional money from taxpayers.
Federal law 'supreme'
John Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, emphasized that Proposal 1 hadn't changed anything as far as the federal government is concerned.
"(Marijuana) is illegal by federal law, and federal law is supreme," he said, though he acknowledged that federal law tries "to focus on major trafficking and distribution."
But Dianne Byrum, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Compassionate Care, the group that supported the proposal, said there's hope that President-elect Barack Obama will ease current restrictions.
Indeed, Obama has promised to stop Drug Enforcement Administration raids on patients in states that allow medical marijuana.
The logic behind Proposal 1 was that "people were getting marijuana anyway and using it," she said. "This only gives protection to those seriously ill people who are using marijuana for medical reasons under the structure of this new law."
Proposal 1 key points
Proposal 1 will:
• Permit physician approved use of marijuana by registered patients with debilitating medical conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, MS and other conditions as may be approved by the state Department of Community Health.
• Permit registered individuals to grow limited amounts of marijuana for qualifying patients, up to 12 plants per patient, in an enclosed, locked facility.
• Require Department of Community Health to establish an identification card system for patients qualified to use marijuana and individuals qualified to grow marijuana. That system will be in place by April 4. The first registration cards will be issued later that month.
• Permit registered and unregistered patients and primary caregivers to assert medical reasons for using marijuana as a defense to any prosecution involving marijuana.