Two Years In, And There's Still Medical Marijuana Confusion

By: Jamie Edmonds Email
By: Jamie Edmonds Email

Somewhere in a small room in a state office building in Lansing, employees are combing through hundreds upon hundreds of applications for medical marijuana cards.

"We get so many applications, in no way can we review them all," Rae Ramsdell said. "So we look for ones with missing information and deny those first."

Ramsdell, is the acting director in the Bureau of Health Professionals. It's her job to oversee the Medical Marijuana Act application process. With a full-time staff of eight, plus nine temporary workers, they still can't get to through them all, which this month is averaging about 770 per day.

"We started with a staff of three, we didn't have that many applications in the beginning," she said. "I've been doing licensing programs for awhile and usually we get an overwhelming batch in the beginning, then they die down. In this program they just haven't, in fact they continue to increase."

In the two years time since voters approved the act, there have been nearly 129,000 new and renewal applications. Currently there are more than 73,000 registered patients in Michigan and 28,000 caregivers.

Karen Kraft is one patient. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2005. After a round of chemo, the cancer returned in 2009. She didn't start using medical marijuana until this year.

"I've used it for pain, there's a lot of pain with chemo and it makes it go away," she said.

Kraft said it's helped in ways other drugs haven't and she knows people with different kinds of debilitating illnesses who feel the same.

"I know there's abuse out there, but there are so many legit patients like myself who use it," she said.

The Attorney General said he supports the law for the narrow use it was intended, specifically for patients like Kraft, but recent state statistics show only two percent of patients named cancer as their reason to get the card, the rest named unspecified chronic pain.

"It's a poorly crafted law full of problems which we are now seeing all across Michigan," Bill Schuette said.

Schuette blames the vague wording of the law for most of the problems, and points to the plethora of dispensaries popping up on Michigan Avenue, just steps from the state capitol, as proof this law is inherently flawed.

"The law is filled with problems, it was designed for a narrow group of people going through an incurable illness," Schuette said. "What we're seeing happen instead is this is being exploited and abused by people who want to legalize drugs."

A completely different issue is zoning. How should cities regulate medical marijuana facilities? That was a major topic in an April Michigan Municipal League conference.

"We don't want to outlaw it, we just want to make sure everyone is on the same page," John DePetro, mayor pro tem of the City of Marquette, said.

"There's still great diversity on what is the right thing to do," Ron Gillham, mayor of Huntington Woods, said.

A lot of communities are in wait and see mode, meaning they're waiting to see if the legislature votes to change or define the law. To change the letter of the law, they would need a 3/4 majority vote in both houses, which is extremely difficult to get.

In the meantime courts are getting slammed with all kinds of issues relating to medical marijuana, and it seems definitive answers are a long way off.

"Some of them starting to get resolved, others we're looking at 2,3,4 years until they're finally resolved," Attorney Michael Woodworth said.

Woodworth said municipalities should set their own rules and not wait for the legislature. They should also remember to collaborate with all stakeholders involved, including dispensary owners.

"Let it be written so we can abide by it, " Shekina Pena, owner of Your Healthy Choice Clinic in Lansing, said. "Allow us to get more respect as a business. There are a lot of reputable businesses out there. There are also wild people out there bending the laws making us all look bad also."

Several bills have been proposed to clarify certain details of the law, but no full votes have been taken.

Attorney General Schuette said he's supporting county prosecutors in court, and working with lawmakers on drafting better language.


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