A sorting-out period typically follows voter-approved laws in Michigan. Lawmakers usually have to write enabling bills that bring the new law in alignment with state practices and statutes.
The sorting-out process that followed the 2008 passage of a medical marijuana measure has been longer and more difficult than most. From the beginning, the medical marijuana legislation — intended to offer pain relief and appetite enhancement to people with certain conditions — challenged and conflicted with local, state and federal laws. The danger has been that the compassionate relief of pain could become a pretext for illegal drug use or marijuana trafficking.
No surprise, then, that local communities sought to set boundaries around the use of medical marijuana. The result of those efforts has been a hodgepodge of city and township ordinances.
The Legislature should bring order to this mess by creating consistent rules that better define the distinction between legitimate, voter-approved marijuana use and the illegal use of the drug. No attempt should be made to dilute the intent of voters, 63 percent of whom approved the ballot measure legalizing marijuana for medical use.
The law allows people to register with the Michigan Department of Community Health to become sanctioned medical marijuana patients. A registered patient must have a condition defined under the law — including AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, chronic pain and others — and be certified by a physician.
Patients are allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of the drug at one time and grow 12 plants in “an enclosed, locked facility.” Qualified “caregivers” can grow plants for up to five patients.
Local communities have passed a variety of ordinances. Some have gone too far, closing the door entirely to medical marijuana. That stance conflicts with the will of voters and will face inevitable legal challenge. Others have tried to set reasonable limits. The cities of Kalamazoo and Portage, for instance, patterned their ordinances after the city of Grand Rapids, which requires medical marijuana growers to register and obtain licenses as home-based businesses.
Even amidst this confusion, Michigan has more than 80,000 people registered as medical marijuana users. State Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia, is developing bills to require stricter doctor-patient relationships before someone is authorized to use the drug. The proposed laws would likely cut down on the number of marijuana dispensaries in Michigan.
Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette has raised concerns about whether the medical marijuana law unwittingly encourages illegal drug use. He wants to make it a felony for physicians to knowingly falsify information about a patient’s condition to allow that person to obtain marijuana. Two criminal cases before the Michigan Supreme Court will explore aspects of the law.
Guidance and clarification is needed and only lawmakers can provide it. Those who qualify for medical marijuana use should have access to the drug and the benefits it can provide — just as voters intended. Illegal use of marijuana, however, should remain against the law. Citizens never voted to change that.
— KALAMAZOO GAZETTE