The heady atmosphere of the early days of medical marijuana in Michigan seems to have dissipated. Back then, there was a celebratory atmosphere as dispensaries were popping across the state and money from ganjapreneurs in Colorado and California flowed in as they expanded into the newest market to welcome their wares. But Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette was less welcoming and led the charge against medical marijuana, particularly dispensaries, which have been raided and shut down in numerous areas of the state. Individual patients and caregivers have been prosecuted and found guilty when they believed they were in compliance with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.
Some activists have responded by starting a petition drive to amend the state Constitution to make it legal for adults to manufacture, buy, sell and possess the substance. But there are others who just want to see the current law implemented as they think it was intended.
"This is something the people put in place," says Jamie Lowell, founder of the Third Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti. "It works when people haven't been interfered with. I think the law needs to be implemented properly first."
Craig Canterberry wholeheartedly agrees. Canterberry is a medical marijuana patient, vice president of the Dickinson County Compassion Club in the Upper Peninsula and runs the forum at michigancannabispatients.com. Canterberry puts up an informal, unscientific poll each year through the online forum asking participants what medical marijuana issues they think are most important to focus on in the next near. This year's 100 or so respondents agreed with those of the past few years: They want the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to get medical marijuana registration cards out in a timelier manner. A taped message at the LARA office said that the office was currently processing applications that were received in July and renewals for patients whose cards expired in September 2011.
"Cards are just being released from last July and August," says Canterberry. "If that was done with driver's licenses, hunting licenses, fishing licenses or doctor's licenses, I'm pretty sure there would be a lot of outrage. This is pretty much a unanimous topic among anybody who has anything to do with the MMMA program. They should be able to have these cards out in a turnaround of 10 days."
And by law, the state is supposed to process cards within 20 days —15 days to approve or reject an application and five days to issue cards to approved applicants.
They don't seem to be having any trouble collecting the money. The voice message at the LARA office assures callers that if "your check or money order has been cashed then your application is in line to be processed."
The problem here is that patients need their medicine in uninterrupted supply. I don't think they make you wait six or eight months to get your medicine when you go to a pharmacy. The prescription-to-pharmacy model isn't quite the same as the medical marijuana system, but once it's been determined that if you qualify then you should be able to get it. The situation forces people to break the law, or at least stretch it uncomfortably, to get medication illegally.
"There are people getting hurt by not having their ID cards," Lowell says.
If your card has not been issued within 20 days, the law says your application can serve as your valid registry identification. However many law enforcement and court officers haven't been aware of this provision and dragged patients and caregivers using applications as their registry identification through the legal system until the situation was cleared up. This is something sick people really shouldn't have to go through.
"Patients want their cards, caregivers want their cards, police want them to have cards, prosecutors want them to have cards and legislators want people to have their cards on them," Canterberry says. "Why are we not receiving them on time?"
I would have asked the folks at LARA, but, when I called there, the voice mailbox was full. I don't think the folks at LARA want to take this seriously. A Dec. 8 report on the Michigan Information & Research Service shows the state's manager of the medical marijuana program to be less than sympathetic to patients. When asked by members of a House committee where patients could get their medication when dispensaries are shut down, Rae Ramsdell said they could get it at the local "high school." When Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, questioned her response, she added a "university" to her response.
Later in the day Ramsdell expressed remorse for her "flip comment" and said, "The law doesn't say where a person can get medical marijuana. Where does a person go? I don't know." Based on the way her office has been issuing cards, I guess they can just go to hell.
Canterberry lays blame at Ramsdell's door: "It seems to be a direct path toward the administrators of the program. I would venture to call it gross administrative incompetence at this point."
Activists say the main thing to do about it is talk to your local representative to get them to pressure the LARA office to work more quickly and efficiently to get approved cards out to patients and caregivers. That lobbying just might work because all state representative seats are up for election this fall.
"For the 2012 elections, expect much more activity out of the cannabis community," Canterberry says. "Much of the community is living in fear due to the pressure put on them by the attorney general's office and local ordinances. There's going to be a high activity level among patients and their families. I've actually been amazed by the questions and activities around the elections this year. ... There has been a political action committee formed, Cannapac, that is going to be asking questions of candidates about their support for the MMMA and its administration."
You would think the money is there to fund proper administration. Estimates are that the state has taken in $8 million in registration fees. That money is not earmarked for LARA administration; it goes into the state's general fund. But the state can appropriate the funds to the program. It's not a lot of cash by state budget standards, but it evidences a significant constituency out there on the issue. Maybe Ramsdell should wake up and see what side her bread is buttered on ... or maybe that's cannabutter.
There are a lot of issues around marijuana motivating folks to get active in this political season. Someone near you might pop up asking you to sign a petition to put the question of legalizing marijuana in Michigan on the fall ballot. Just so you know what they're trying to do, here is the language of the proposed state constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana:
Article 1 Section 28.
Repeal of Marihuana Prohibition.
For persons who are at least 21 years of age who are not incarcerated, marihuana acquisition, cultivation, manufacture, sale, delivery, transfer, transportation, possession, ingestion, presence in or on the body, religious, medical, industrial, agricultural, commercial or personal use, or possession or use of paraphernalia shall not be prohibited, abridged or penalized in any manner, nor subject to civil forfeiture; provided that no person shall be permitted to operate an aircraft, motor vehicle, motorboat, ORV, snowmobile, train, or other heavy or dangerous equipment or machinery while impaired by marihuana.