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Wednesday, September 19,2012

Advocates rally against medical marijuana changes

by Kyle Melinn

Medical marijuana advocates are tired of the Republican-led Legislature and Attorney General Bill Schuette chipping away at the 2008 voter-initiated law. Today they’re planning on letting them know.

At least 1,000 are expected to gather at the Capitol at noon to protest the source of their latest outrage — a four-bill package supporters say adds structure to Michigan’s medical marijuana law, but opponents like Joe Cain of the National Medical Marijuana Coalition see as the legalized singling out of patients.

The Senate was slated to take up the bills last week. Cain said he suspects political pressures are keeping the package bottled up until after the General Election in the hopes the bills’ passage doesn’t inflame the electorate to lash out against Republicans.

Cain said he hopes they stay corked.

“The medical marijuana law has never really been implemented,” Cain said. “We’ve had people harassed, arrested, injured in some cases. Military tactics have been used against us.” 

The bills’ primary purpose is to mandate that medical marijuana recommendations come from a physician with an existing relationship with the patient. Right now, any physician can sign the state form patients need to get medical marijuana cards. Bill opponents see this as a lawsuit waiting to happen. How many visits define a relationship? Two? Three? Four?

Cain said he fears it will push patients underground since traditional family physicians are reluctant to put their name to a medical marijuana script.

There are also concerns that doctors will be put in a box because doctors aren’t legally allowed to recommend treatment with a Schedule 1 drug.

“We have no choice but to stand up to these changes because our community is at risk,” wrote one advocate from the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association. “Join us my friends and stand up to tyranny.” 

Matt Abel of NORML said the legislation slaps medical marijuana patients with strict, unique regulations. Medical marijuana would need to be stored in the trunk of a car. Law enforcement could look up a person’s medical information to double-check the marijuana was legitimately prescribed.

If put into law, these regulations would conflict with federal HIPAA regulations designed to protect patient privacy, Abel said.

“This would be the most aggressive access to the registry,” he said.

And then there are the offending changes Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Rick Jones made last month. Originally, only violent felons were banned from being caregivers under the bills that passed the House overwhelmingly in May. Jones roped in all felons as being banned.

Jones also expanded the universe of law enforcement personnel who could check a person’s medical records to park rangers.

Jones said advocates should appreciate the legislation because it adds legitimacy to the medical marijuana law. It weeds out the 19-year-old man who told him he needed medical marijuana because of the kink he got on his neck sometimes when he slept funny on it, while still allowing access to vulnerable, sick patients.

It smokes out the bad actors by banning those with a felony record away from those who could be further abused, Jones added.

The bills also protect the general public by keeping medical marijuana only in the hands of those who need it as opposed to it becoming some pseudo-legal drug legitimized by quack doctors.

“It’s important for the police to know who can legally have medical marijuana,” Jones said. “It protects patients because under these circumstances they have to be treated slightly differently.” 

Abel said he wouldn’t feel so skeptical if he didn’t know Jones’ past as an ardent opponent to the medical marijuana law with designs to dismantle it.

Jones, the former Eaton County sheriff, went on record weeks ago with his belief that voters should be given another crack at the medical marijuana law, that the law has generated so many unintended consequences that the voters would repeal it if given another chance.

So far, Jones has generated some interest with Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. But the head of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia, isn’t on board.

Yet, medical marijuana advocates haven’t liked what they’ve seen from state government, in general. Schuette, who ran the “No” campaign four years ago, is pushing for stricter laws.

Court rulings have cracked down on dispensaries — those still open appear to be operating at the mercy of sympathetic local authorities — added strict new rules on growers and held up convictions of legitimate caregivers.

The latest test for the Supreme Court will be whether cooperative growing — plants being grown by several caregivers — is OK.

Abel is convinced the mood of the electorate is running counter to the actions of these alleged get-tough-crime polls. If legalizing was on the ballot opposite a repeal of the medial marijuana law, Abel said it wouldn’t be close.

“We’d win,” he said.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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