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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  • by Anonymous on May 4, 2011 at 07:21 AM
    There is no confusion, I dont want it in my neighborhood.
    • reply
      by lj on May 5, 2011 at 09:09 PM in reply to
      Hate to break it to ya but its gonna be in your neighborhood, whether its legal for patients, or illegal period, it has always been arounf and isnt going anywhere. The difference is now its similar to buying alcohol, you have to be legal to purchase it, which is now helping cut out the people selling it on the streets to kids & and whoever, if ya think about it. Sure your going to have a few ignorant people who will sell it to teens, & anyone to get a dollar, but it has put a huge dent in the underground market for it, because no one wants to do it illegally anymore. Personally I like the fact I can go to a store and recieve my medicine, just like I would go to a pharmacy and recieve meds, which by the way do you have a pharmacy in your neighborhood? Do you mind that there, because last time I checked marijuana hasn't killed by usage but prescription drugs have. I think if taxes were put on it just like anything else, it would help the state get out of their budget crisis, without harming pensions, wages, ect... look how much just the applications have brought in, in a short time. As a medical marijuana store owner, I have to say we paid our taxes this year, just like any other business, before we opened we were recieving UIA because we lost our jobs due to the economy! really look at how many people its helping medically, financially, ect... If the state was smart they would figure out a plan to help them make more money, instead of trying to spend money they don't have on something that was voted in by so many voters!! God Bless!!
  • by Anonymous on May 3, 2011 at 06:37 AM
    There are legal extracts for the drug that could be purchased with out the side effects.
    • reply
      by Jen on May 3, 2011 at 12:16 PM in reply to
      They are not as effective, and, in some cases, don't work at all for some people. I also see it as fruitless and cost ineffective to process something when just partaking of the substance (marijuana/THC) in its purer form is effective, easy, and CURRENTLY LEGAL. Bill Schuette quite obviously has zero respect for the citizens of this state since he so obviously thinks we're all idiots who didn't know what we were voting for and thinks he knows better. Mr. Schuette, I don't need you to be my dad and tell me what I should or shouldn't do, within the law that I helped vote in, so why don't you just give it a rest and do things that Michigan needs done instead of wasting all of our time and money. We all know you hate "Demon Weed", but the majority of us don't care and really wish you'd shut up about it now.
  • by Chris Location: Perry on May 3, 2011 at 05:47 AM
    The Attorney General DOES NOT support the medical marijuana bill. In fact, he led the effort to oppose the measure when it was presented to voters. Now, he is trying to do everything he can to undermine the protections afforded to patients and caregivers under the law. The only reason this is causing "problems" for law enforcement and communities is that they continually fail to acknowledge the clear language in this law. The two key principles of the law: medical users should be left alone and doctors are the gatekeepers for access to medical marijuana (just like they are for any other drug.)
  • by George Location: newbery on May 2, 2011 at 08:58 PM
    I think this is just silly if a doctor says you qualify you should be left alone! I have cronic nerve damage and I give thanks to god every night I have a CHOICE between eating what ever new narcotic doc. throws at me or using marijuana. it is FAR less adicting, almost imposible to O.D. from and really has little side affects other than munchies life is alot smoother. It makes me sick this at gen. saying only 2% of people with cancer have aplied this HELPS alot of people ESPECIALLY PAIN!!!!! And many many many other problems, its time for the gov. to step aside and tell the truth here. Im tired of the foot in the door 63% 63% of Michigans population wants a CHOICE!!! LEAVE MEDICAL MARIJUANA ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    • reply
      by Donna on May 3, 2011 at 11:00 AM in reply to George
      George, I too have chronic nerve damage from shingles(5 years and counting). I am on neurontin, Duragesic patches, ultram, lidocaine patches and topomax. Previously I was on Darvocets before they were taken off the market. I would much rather use cannabis that all this other stuff that I'm sure is bad for my liver.
  • by Chris in WI Location: WI on May 2, 2011 at 05:06 PM
    I can't believe this is a debate. The flaw in the law is that Hemp/Cannabis is illegal. The disinformation spread by powerful lobbies to keep this plant illegal represents the greatest disinformation campagn of all time!~
  • by stacia Location: jackson on May 2, 2011 at 05:01 PM
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