Michigan lawmakers seek clarity on edible marijuana

Gary Heinlein
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
In 2011, Jesse Boucher of Puff Dannys shows a vaporizer, which allows people to inhale vapors instead of smoking medical marijuana.

Lansing – — Four state lawmakers are reviving bills to legalize an array of medical marijuana products and dispensaries where they'd be sold after last year's effort was shot down by last-minute criticism from law enforcement and health groups.

Republican Rep. Mike Callton of Nashville, main sponsor of one of the bills, argues Michigan needs clear laws and regulations allowing "provisioning centers" where patients legally get marijuana in various forms suited to their needs.

Last year's bills died during the two-week lame-duck legislative session in December as opponents said police and public health agencies hadn't been allowed to weigh in and saw problems with what was proposed. The sponsors promise to remedy any shortcomings this time around.

Callton, a chiropractor by profession, said two related bills with House and Senate sponsors aim to "establish safe access for patients and allow for the use of alternative forms of marijuana, such as medibles and topicals."

His provisioning center bill calls for law enforcement access to make sure laws are being followed, at least annual health inspections, mandated laboratory certification that the products on sale are safe and a set of rules developed by the state's Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Department. The second measure would clarify that smokable marijuana isn't the only form of it that's legal.

The other bill sponsors are Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, and Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

Their legislation seeks to clarify a shadowy area of state law so patients know what forms of the marijuana they can buy that 63 percent of state voters approved for medicinal use in 2008.

Affected users include Lansing resident Steve Green, who takes capsules containing a liquid form of cannabis to control epilepsy, and Ida Chinonis of Grand Blanc, who has found marijuana oil best controls seizures her 6-year-old daughter suffers as a result of a genetic disorder.

In Michigan, the number of people obtaining state cards that permit medical marijuana use has declined from 119,470 to 96,408 during the last three years, and Green says it's at least partly because they fear state registration brings them added scrutiny or see no benefit from it.

"I've had people ask me: 'After all you've been through, why do you renew your card?' said Green, who faced charges and temporarily lost custody of his daughter over medical marijuana use by him and his wife, Maria.

In 2013, police and Children's Protective Services took their 6-month-old daughter, Bree, from their home for six weeks. The child ultimately was returned to them, and criminal charges against Green were dropped.

Green, who said his "eye-opening experience" has caused him to pay attention to marijuana issues, said there are misconceptions about the provisioning centers Callton wants to make legal.

"We would think it's college kids going to these stores, when it's mostly those who haven't acquired marijuana in the last five years," he said.

"College kids can get marijuana everywhere they go. ... But somebody who's never done it, who just got this (doctor's) recommendation, they've got nowhere to go, and they're not interested in meeting these new people (growers)."

Facing resistance

But the legislation faces skepticism, if not opposition, from Attorney General Bill Schuette and organizations such as the Michigan Sheriffs' Association and Michigan Association for Local Public Health.

When the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that marijuana dispensaries aren't legal under current state law, Schuette said he accepted it as the final word on the issue.

"We all know people who have or are suffering from great pain, but at the same time we must also keep drugs out of kids' hands," Schuette said in a statement regarding the new proposals. "The Legislature is doing its job to look at the huge holes in the original law, and we will monitor the legislation as it progresses."

Although 17 of the 32 states with medical marijuana laws also permit dispensaries, the Sheriffs' Association and Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police have had philosophical objections that might be difficult to resolve.

Last year's bills, for example, would have allowed dispensaries to sell excess marijuana patients grow for their own use or that registered caregivers grow to supply patients. The law enforcement groups said that would have introduced a profit motive and "financially incentivize" people to get state cards that allow them to grow and use medical marijuana.

A more basic issue is the added work for law officers who would have to watch dispensaries to ensure they sold only state-allowed quantities and only to medical marijuana card holders.

Lansing Police Chief Michael Yankowski said officers want clarity.

"Our mission is simple," Yankowski said. "We want to keep our communities safe, and we want to protect the constitutional rights of our citizens."

The Association for Local Public Health, representing 45 local health departments, says it's unclear whether health agencies or the state Agriculture Department, which inspects bakeries, would monitor product handling conditions and practices at dispensaries.

Agencies concerned

The health agencies also are worried about absorbing added duties when Gov. Rick Snyder is proposing a $1.5 million cut in the state budget for their work next year, said association executive director Megan Swain.

The Supreme Court decision hasn't entirely stopped people from opening dispensaries, especially in some of the 13 Michigan cities whose residents now have approved local ordinances allowing recreational marijuana use.

According to the 2014 Marijuana Business Factbook, there are 180 dispensaries in Detroit alone. City Council member James Tate said rules and regulations are needed to govern those places.

And Grand Blanc's Chinonis said patients like her daughter need "a safe, legal and licensed location to obtain medical marijuana" and a law making it clear that alternative ways of taking marijuana are legal.

Chinonis, who has given her 6-year-old daughter, Bella, three daily oral doses of marijuana oil for about a month, said the drug has shortened the duration of the child's "life-threatening seizures" from 10 minutes to 10 seconds. She said Bella now is more alert and responsive to learning.

Lyons, who is sponsoring a bill permitting alternative forms of marijuana, said she would do exactly what Chinonis is doing if her child had a serious medical condition best controlled by cannabis.

'We have to get this fixed'

But court decisions and complexities of the current law, Lyons said, are leading to "medical injustices, social injustices and health policy issues."

"We have to get this fixed," she added. "We are prosecuting patients, and we're prosecuting parents for choosing a delivery method for medicinal marijuana that may be a safer and more practical alternative than smoking.

"These aren't criminals. They're patients. They're people. We have to remember that."


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