July 18, 2014 at 1:00 am

LETTER

Pot dispensary bill lacks teeth

A former Michigan lawmakers says the dispensary bill up in the state Senate lacks heft. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)

Two bills are being considered by the state Senate Committee on Government Operations. They both are backed by excellent intentions and their concepts are valid – the problem is the implementation.

House Bill 4271 was introduced to make regulated medical marihuana more available to qualified patients.

However, the unfortunate reality is that the version of the bill that passed the House and is now before the committee doesn’t regulate marijuana and isn’t medical.

First, in HB 4271, there is no statewide regulation. The state would have not have authority to influence who/where/when marijuana could be produced or sold. Instead, it gives permission to each of the 1,773 municipalities in Michigan to do that on their own.

To be clear, in the version before this committee, the state would not regulate the dispensaries (“Provisioning Centers”) at all. In fact, like in California, the state would not even be authorized to collect the names and addresses and maintain a database of the licensed medical marijuana businesses.

Therefore, if enacted, this could not be considered a “strong and effective state regulatory system” as required by the U.S. Department of Justice. Thus, Michigan would not receive the same assurance of non-interference that most of the other 22 states with medical marijuana programs now have. Without that federal immunity, B 4271 could be unsafe to implement.

It does not include “strong state enforcement efforts, backed by adequate funding” as required by the U.S. Department of Justice. In fact, there is none. No enforcement and no funding (even though the fees paid by Michigan medical marijuana patients have generated millions of dollars in surplus for the state).

At the same time, the system that would be set-up by HB 4271, isn’t medical.

The bill has none of the standard safety requirements that all other therapeutic medical products (including herbal supplements) are required to have:

■ be traceable back to the source of the product,

■ be labeled with accurate and independently-verified information showing amount of all ingredients,

■ be packaged in a sealed, tamper-evident container, and

■ be fully tested for safety and purity.

Not only are there no safeguards built in, with this version of the bill, the state is prohibited from applying the existing health rules for food, drinks, lotions and capsules to those same products if they contain marihuana.

We applaud the bill’s creation of safety compliance facilities. However, we are deeply concerned there are minimal requirements that they actually be used, or even that safety be complied with at all.

It is disconcerting that the bill does not establish any standards or accreditation for a business to call itself a safety compliance facility — nor is an application and approval process created. With licensing left solely to local government officials, that would mean any business that convinces one township, village or city in the state that it should be considered a “Safety Compliance Facility” — it would then be authorized to act as such throughout all of Michigan.

Another indefensible feature of HB 4271 is that the marijuana for the medicine would be grown by a loose network of 27,046 individuals, growing and processing in their own homes. These individuals would be the program’s only authorized source for marijuana. These do-it-yourself, at-home marijuana growers would be immune from all local and state safety and purity regulations.

Finally, it should be self-evident, medicine isn’t smoked. It is unhealthy to smoke anything; plus, such use cannot be quantified. With smoking, there is no way for a medical professional to enter the dose a patient receives into medical records. A “joint” isn’t a unit of measurement.

There’s a better way. Michigan can join Minnesota, New York and, soon, Pennsylvania in having a medical marijuana distribution program without smoking.

Registered marihuana patients should be able to rely on consistent, state-wide regulations and state government action to rigorously and impartially ensure that cannabis and its packaging are safe and that producers are being held to account for their practices.

Richard Fitzpatrick, president, Cannabis Standards Institute, served four terms in the Michigan House of Representatives (1978-1986), representing the Battle Creek/Marshall/Albion area