Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lansing-area arrest might clarify medical marijuana law


When Meridian Township police stopped 37-year-old Aaron Katz for speeding, they discovered marijuana in his car.

He faces the possibility of time behind bars because of a charge of marijuana possession, along with another of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.

Yet the Marshall man apparently has a state-issued medical marijuana card, which his attorney says is reason to drop the marijuana charge.

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III argues in his brief that Katz received the card after his March 4 arrest and that he didn't have a "bona fide" relationship with the doctor who gave him a recommendation for the state's medical marijuana program.

"He was not a 'registered qualifying patient' at the time of the offense," Dunnings said in court documents. "There was not a 'bona fide physician-patient relationship' at the time."

According to Dunnings, the doctor who gave Katz his recommendation specializes in obstetrics and gynecology.

The case is another that could help bring clarity to Michigan's medical marijuana law, which two-thirds of the state's voters approved in 2008.

"Everyone is trying to be compliant with the law," said Lisa McCormick, Ingham County's chief assistant prosecuting attorney. However, "there's a lot of questions that have come up with the way it's written.

"That's why cases will be litigated. That's our system. It will be very interesting to see how it all pans out."

Mike Nichols, Katz's attorney, is upset with prosecutors for touching on the doctor-patient relationship.

"The issue is whether (the) Department of Community Health checked it out, endorsed the application and granted the card," he said. "It's nobody's business how long (the doctor) spent with that person and what (he or she) did to analyze their case."

While Dunnings emphasizes that Katz received his medical marijuana card after his arrest, Nichols said that the medical marijuana allowance should be permitted because Katz's conditions existed before the arrest.

Katz declined to comment for this story, and Nichols would not say what those medical conditions are. But court documents say that they include "severe and chronic pain," "severe nausea" and "severe and persistent muscle spasms"

What constitutes a "bona fide" doctor-patient relationship is something state officials may look into.

"That's one of the things we are concerned about when it comes to doctor-patient relationships," said James McCurtis, spokesman of the Michigan Department of Community Health. "That's one of the topics that we're going to ask the Board of Osteopathic Medicine and the Board of Medicine to define (and) set up some type of guideline.

"Right now, there isn't anything that clearly defines what is a bona fide doctor-patient relationship, not in the public health code."

He did not say what he thinks the proper guidelines are, explaining that he wouldn't want to influence the state boards.

The Capitol City Compassion Club, an advocacy and education group, invites the seriously ill to meet with a doctor for potential recommendations to participate in the state's medical marijuana program.

Traveling from outside Greater Lansing, the doctor recently began making weekly trips to the 2010 E. Michigan Ave. club.

Robin Schneider, the club president, said that appointments of less than a half hour shouldn't be an issue.

She emphasized that she's known doctors to do the same for other types of medication.


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