Friday, January 9, 2009

Michigan Medical Marihuana Program


The draft rules for the state's medical marijuana program treat users as criminals and put undue responsibility on law enforcement, say those who spoke at the only public hearing on the topic Monday in Lansing.

More than 100 people gathered to voice concerns about regulations drawn by the Michigan Department of Community Health, which will oversee the program starting April 4.

Among the issues raised were possible constitutional and privacy violations, as well as what some advocates say is a too-narrow definition of "public place," where medical marijuana use would still be illegal.

"We are responsible, law-abiding adults. We want a sensible, workable medical marijuana program," said Greg Francisco, executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association (MMMA)

Under the draft rules, registered users of marijuana for medical purposes or their caregivers would have to keep records of the amounts of marijuana they grow, and users would have to identify other users on registration forms.

"I don't have to tell my pharmacist every other patient who my doctor has written a prescription for," Francisco said.

The complaints have merit, said Peter Hammer, a health law professor at Wayne State University.

"There's a lot of discretion in who drafts the rules to make it easy or harder. It's clear these rules are designed to make it hard," he said.

MDCH's director, Janet Olszewski, publicly opposed Proposal 1. In November, voters in every county said yes to Proposal 1, which would allow people with terminal or chronic illnesses such as cancer, HIV and neurological diseases, or their caregivers, to grow and use medical marijuana without fear of state prosecution.

The proposal also allows for a medical marijuana defense, should a user or caregiver be caught in possession while in public.

There was concern about MDCH contacting federal Medicaid and Social Security offices as part of registration. . Marijuana use is still a federal crime, and the information could be incriminating under federal prosecution, or at least be grounds for denial of benefits, advocates said.

"We need to change the law enforcement paradigm to a public health paradigm," said Melody Karr of MMMA.

A Michigan State Police spokesman indicated the agency didn't want responsibility of destroying excess marijuana, as written in the draft. Greg Zarotney, of the State Police executive division, said users or caregivers should destroy excess, or MDCH should add rules allowing the transfer of excess marijuana from a former user to a new one.

"It's burdensome for law enforcement to have someone come in asking to destroy 12 plants. Plants can grow quite big," he said.

Zarotney suggested the state's registration system be tied into the same database with driver's licenses, to allow officers to quickly know if a user or caregiver was legitimately registered.

The requirement for a face-to-face interview also was denounced, as advocates said some users were too sick to travel lengthy distances for an interview.

Some rules imposed actions not mentioned in the law, including requiring users to keep all marijuana under lock and key, instead of just plants. Melissa DiPirro, of the Macomb County office of substance abuse, spoke in favor of the rule, adding that prescription drugs should be locked up as well.

Desmond Mitchell said as a regulatory agency official, the multiple comments gave them a user's perspective.

"Nobody's pulling a fast one or has a secret agenda," he said.

Contact MEGHA SATYANARAYANA at 313-223-4544 or


Michigan's Medical Marijuana Rules Open to Debate

Last Edited: Tuesday, 06 Jan 2009, 5:31 AM EST
Created: Tuesday, 06 Jan 2009, 5:31 AM EST

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan officials still are working on the rules to guide the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The Department of Community Health's first crack at drafting official procedures for the program ran into some opposition at a public hearing Monday.

Medical marijuana advocates say the draft rules put too many restrictions on patients. They oppose a proposal that patients and caregivers be required to keep records of the marijuana grown for use.

The new law approved by Michigan voters in November will allow patients with cancer, HIV, AIDS, glaucoma and other diseases to use marijuana to relieve symptoms on a doctor's recommendation. But the state must finalize rules for the program before patients can apply.

Rules must be finalized by April 4.

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