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Medical marijuana is legal; Michigan needs sensible policy to provide it

Nearly five years after the passage of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, the biggest obstacle for patients who want to use marijuana remains … actually getting some.

IT’S THE LAW: Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved the use of medical marijuana in 2008. It’s incumbent on lawmakers to devise a system of distribution that works for patients, argues Larry Gabriel. (courtesy photo/used under Creative Commons license)

IT’S THE LAW: Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved the use of medical marijuana in 2008. It’s incumbent on lawmakers to devise a system of distribution that works for patients, argues Larry Gabriel. (courtesy photo/used under Creative Commons license)

That’s why House Bill4271, the Medical Marihuana Provisioning Center Regulation Act, is so important. Introduced by Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, HB 4271 gives local municipalities the choice of whether they will allow so-called “dispensaries” or other entities to sell marijuana. This is a fair solution to a problem that has dogged the state since the MMMA was approved by 63 percent of voters in 2008.

The law tells patients that they can have marijuana, but says little about the where and how. Patients can grow it themselves or they can have a caretaker grow it for them. This puts them in a curious situation.

Consider people who have never had anything to do with marijuana and find themselves with an illness that would be relieved by it. Cultivating an indoor garden takes a fair amount of effort and must be tended every day. You have to have the space, and it takes. at minimum, a few hundred dollars’ worth of equipment. You can face interruptions from power outages or absences, and crop infestations from insects or disease. When folks need an uninterrupted supply of medication, they need a back-up plan.

The caretaker option means you have to enter a relationship with someone you may not know well for a situation where you have to share intimate personal information. That is particularly troublesome in an atmosphere where many still regard marijuana users as criminals or degenerates, even if they have medical certification.

If we are going to allow medical marijuana in Michigan, then we need reasonable ways for patients to get it – ways that don’t force them into criminal interactions. The Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled that dispensaries are not allowed under present law. But it didn’t settle how patients are supposed to be able to get an uninterrupted supply of medication, as intended by the state’s voters.

The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. However, the ameliorative effects of the substance – relief from pain and nausea, an appetite enhancer – are well-known. What is less well-known is that the federal government had held a patent on the medical use of cannabinoids (the active substances in marijuana, including THC) as an antioxidant since 2004. And the National Cancer Institute recently added a page to its website titled “Cannabis and Cancer.” The NCI cites the “anti-tumor effects of cannabinoids.”

Anyone who looks at the mounting scientific and anecdotal evidence available would agree that the government should at least allow human trials to determine how marijuana can be medically useful.

Medical marijuana is not going to disappear. Voters in 18 states and Washington, D.C., have opted to allow it — and several more states are considering legislation to do the same.

It makes sense to create workable policies now. Yes there will be some abuse. But forcing sick people to live in pain or die because of that is like taking away everybody’s driver’s license because some people drive too fast. Actually, a lot of people drive too fast and sometimes the outcome is death. No one has ever died from a marijuana overdose.

Callton has assembled an impressive array of 16 cosponsors for HB 4271, including conservative heavy hitters such as Reps. Jon Bumstead of Newaygo and Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills. On March 16, the National Patients Rights Association held a fundraiser at the Ann Arbor Art Center to support efforts to pass the legislation, raising $23,000 for lobbying and other efforts. This is not a ragged and unorganized group.

Maybe the best part of the bill is that it allows local municipalities to make their own call on whether they want to allow dispensaries in their communities. It’s certainly worthy of some thoughtful consideration. It takes distribution of a medical substance away from the criminals, allows standards to be set in place and is a humane and compassionate policy.

Larry Gabriel is a freelance Detroit Metro Times contributor who was named Best Columnist by the Association for Alternative Newsmedia in 2012. He believes there is wisdom in blues lyrics and that the best brunch is poached salmon, scrambled eggs and avocado. The views and assertions of guest columnists do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

4 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Tom

    Great article and best analogy I’ve heard so far!!

    This really is about the people who are in NEED of medical marijuana. You are denying them a God given right to medicine so they can have a better quality of life!

    Rapid Fire Marketing

  2. J Schneider

    I would prefer that medical marihuana be dispensed by pharmacies not dispensaries. I have been told the substance in marihuana used for medicinal purposes can be separated from the substance that makes a person high.

  3. Art Carney

    While expanding access to medical cannabis for some patients is a concern, Rep. Irwin and Mr. Gabriel’s characterization of “caretakers” (caregivers) as criminals is a nothing more than an inaccurate perception. There have not been mass arrests of caregivers for exceeding the limits of the law, in fact, not a single caregiver card was revoked by the State in 2012! Caregivers are not criminals!

    It’s precisely this kind of language that’s driving a wedge into the cannabis community. Our medical marijuana program, for better or worse, has operated successfully for four years with caretakers serving patients. It will operate for many more years without dispensaries because of courageous and compassionate caretakers. Before you start throwing caretakers under the bus to move this legislation forward, maybe you should modify your tone and start placing the blame on the shoulders of the legislators who refuse to negotiate honestly because of their skewed perception of exactly who cannabis consumers (and caretakers in particular) are.

  4. CES

    Are there double blind studies such as are required for all drugs approved by the FDA that demonstrate the pluses and minuses, the main effects and the side effects and the expected overall impact on society including increased use of stronger drugs, on public safety and on the use of marijuana by teenagers? If marijuana is efficacious why is it not produced and distributed by the normal physician prescription process. Wouldn’t that reduce misuse? Also there is a synthetic canabis that is subject to the normal drug administration process. Does it eliminate any side effects? What are the benefits and negatives of this drug? Isn’t that really the way to go? Why not? I believe most marijuana users dose by smoking, is this safe or healthy? Does second hand smoke endanger health care and other care givers? Lots of questions, no answers here.

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