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Thursday, November 4,2010

Just say no

A first draft of rules of the state’s new medical marijuana law incites protest from patients and advocates.

by Neal McNamara

The frustration of Desmond Mitchell, a state Department of Community Health policy adviser, was almost palpable at a public hearing Monday morning regarding the department’s draft rules for the state’s new medical marijuana law.


Mitchell sat at a long conference table, slightly slumped, as lawyers, patients, advocates, and even one self-proclaimed pot-growing expert gave impassioned speeches about medical marijuana, as if they were being faced with the revocation of their constitutional rights.

About halfway through the threehour meeting, Mitchell spoke up.


“I would ask that we not go over the same rules, so everyone can speak,” Mitchell told the crowd gathered in a conference room at the state’s secondary complex out near Dimondale — estimates from various media outlets put that crowd between 100 and 200.


But the speakers, some infirm in wheelchairs, others looking scruffy like veterans of a long war to legalize medical marijuana, were upset at the draft rules — some saying that the department was contradicting the law passed in November by voters by a margin of 63 percent, or outright seeking to restrict access to medical marijuana.

Some of the most despised rules include requiring useable marijuana to be kept in a locked cabinet and requiring patients and caregivers to keep an inventory of their marijuana; some feared this could help incriminate patients by creating a paper trail of their use of a drug still illegal under federal law.


Some in the public questioned why medical marijuana has to be locked up but other, stronger drugs can be kept just anywhere.

Questions were also raised about rules that would allow state officials to inspect medical marijuana patients’ inventories and prohibit medical marijuana to be consumed in public view, even on private property.


The Rev. Steven B. Thompson, the head of the Michigan National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, chastised the department for drafting a rule that would bar him from using marijuana on his property, which he said is quite expansive.

“I have the right to consume medical cannabis on my porch, on my property and in my home,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have curtains Todd Heywood/Michigan Messenger on his windows.

There were also complaints about the procedure one would have to undergo to get a reduced rate in applying to be on the medical marijuana registry — the department has proposed a $100 application fee, which would be reduced to $25 if a patient can prove that they’re receiving Social Security or Medicare. Some said that this could put patients in legal trouble, or get them kicked off of federal assistance.

Even “the man” — state police spokesman Greg Zorotney — criticized the rules; he took issue with a rule that would have leftover medical marijuana, such as when a patient dies, given over to law enforcement agencies.

“Our department doesn’t want to accept medical marijuana from anybody,” Zorotney said. “There should be a mandate that it be destroyed or transferred to another patient.”

Karen O’Keefe, a lawyer with the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project, which largely bankrolled Michigan’s medical marijuana initiative, said that the department was overstepping its boundaries. O’Keefe, who wrote Michigan’s law, said that the department was given two duties: set up a patient registry and oversee the list of diseases that would allow someone to use medical marijuana.

“The draft rules have gone much further, and they instead seek to add onerous and unreasonable restrictions on patients,” she said. “In several cases (the draft rules) contradict the language of the voter-enacted law.”


James McCurtis, a department spokesman, said that the rules — the state has a deadline of April 4 — could still go through “infinite” iterations. McCurtis said that the state has been in contact with Oregon for guidance on setting up a medical marijuana system.


At the end of the meeting Mitchell reasoned with the crowd, telling them that their input is valuable to the process of implementing a final set of rules. He seemed to indicate that what was presented Monday would probably change.

“We’re a regulatory agency, and we look at things different than you a lot of the time,” Mitchell said. “I just want to assure you that no one is pulling a fast one — your comments will help us to make the rules better.”


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