Editorial: Clarify medical marijuana
Bills to legalize marijuana dispensaries and products that serve the state's medical marijuana patients have been lingering in the Legislature. They should be a priority for lawmakers this year.
The bills would provide clarity and protection for the state's 96,000 legal medical marijuana patients.
Michigan's 2008 Medical Marijuana Act legalized use of the drug for medical patients by a large margin, with 63 percent of voters approving. But despite the law — and growing tolerance statewide for even broader marijuana use — Michigan ambiguously regulates the industry.
That's unfair to the patients in the state seeking safe, legal ways to obtain different forms of the drug, and in protected locations. It's also a challenge for law enforcement officials, who are unsure how to proceed under the state's confusing rules.
The bills were reintroduced in February after stalling out during last year's lame-duck session. Similar forms of the bills have been introduced since 2012.
Currently, Michigan law only protects smoking forms of the drug, but not edibles or topical applications, such as oils. Additionally, dispensaries that sell marijuana products — also called "provisioning centers" — are legally unprotected. This leaves patients who need those forms of the drug, including children, with few legal options.
All forms of the medicine should be equally protected, particularly as non-smoking forms of the drug are safer than many smokable forms, which are fully legal. And patients rely on these forms of the drug to treat serious and debilitating diseases.
Legalizing dispensaries would also clarify safe access points for those who need the medicine. Currently, patients are supposed to obtain medicine only from a qualified caregiver, who is restricted to working with no more than five patients.
Caregivers can be hard to find, and that system provides less regulation and fewer safety precautions than would a system of regulated, legal dispensaries.
Despite their foggy legal status, dispensaries are scattered around the state. Already 13 Michigan cities whose residents have approved local ordinances allowing recreational marijuana use have them, and in Detroit there are 180 centers.
These centers should first and foremost serve the needs of medical marijuana patients, who have a legal right to the drug. And if a community decides it doesn't want a dispensary, the legislation rightly allows for it to opt out.
The Michigan Sheriffs Association came out strongly against the bills last year, citing a "profit motive" as a reason to prevent their passage, and also argued there isn't enough personnel to properly enforce new regulations and keep it away from children.
Surely the drug should be kept out of the hands of children, and fully regulating provisioning centers would go a long way to ensuring patients, not kids, have access.
Further, there's no more profit motive for marijuana than there is for prescription drugs, which are generally abused to a greater extent, and more fatal.
The Legislature and Michigan Supreme Court have kept the state's medical marijuana program ambiguous for years, leaving those who need to use the system properly in limbo, and often in fear of being arrested.
It's time to clarify the legal rights of medical marijuana patients in the state by acting on these bills.