By NICK MORDOWANEC
Capital News Service
LANSING – It’s been almost a year since medicinal marijuana was legalized in Michigan, but the rules and guidelines surrounding its use are still hazy.
Voters last fall overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative that allowed its use.
Michigan is one of 13 states with a medical marijuana program.
More than 4,400 patient cards have been given out since the law went into effect April 6. The Department of Community Health also has issued about 1,800 cards to caregivers so they can grow and sell marijuana for patients.
And while the rules are already set, problems are still occurring relating on how such regulations are interpreted.
“There are a number of holes in the law,” said Mike Shea, the Gladwin County sheriff. “One example revolves around not having a database in which it is stated who does or doesn’t have a card. All the people can do is confirm or deny having a card.”
According to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Caregivers, an advocacy group, guidelines let doctors attest to illnesses but not write subscriptions for marijuana. Abuse of the card, as well violating the law itself, can result in prosecution.
However, Shea said, the Gladwin Police Department has been well-trained on the medical marijuana law and has worked hard to clear up any ambiguities about what is and isn’t permitted.
“The Gladwin County prosecutor has taken the initiative to get all law enforcement together and tell them what the law is,” Shea said. “Members of our road patrol have had one-on-one interviews on how to handle issues like growing plants and possessing marijuana in general.
“Our people are trained, and it is the obligation of the individual to have a card, prove they have a card and go by the requirements of the law.”
Some critics find other flaws in the law and guidelines.
“Many arrests occurred while people were outdoor growing during the summer months,” said Steven Thompson of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (MINORML). “Law enforcement apparently doesn’t recognize chain-link fences as protecting a person’s own property. It’s one of many gray areas which need to be addressed.”
Thompson puts some of the blame on people in government for pursuing their own ideologies rather than be impartial.
“Attorney Gen. Mike Cox won’t issue guidelines on the law, instead passing it on to the Michigan Department of Community Health,” Thompson said. “Many legislators are ignoring voters while having their own opinions, setting their own rules and regulations.
“The state just got through trying to fix the budget and wanted to cut $433 million in aid for education, but then they go right back and give $450 million to law enforcement to pull a harmless plant out of ground – a plant that is far more safer than alcohol,” he said.
James McCurtis, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Community Health, says the guidelines don’t need to be changed.
“From our standpoint, everything is fine,” McCurtis said. “People come here to apply, and we either give them a card or not. Problems stem from people not being approved because they don’t have chronic illnesses or have not applied correctly.”
McCurtis said applying for a card costs $100, while the price is even lower for Medicaid beneficiaries.