Thursday, February 23, 2012

State responds to MMJ column, promises to catch up on card backlog

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2012 at 2:39 PM

Lansing has taken notice of Larry Gabriel’s recent Higher Ground column taking the Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs to task for its chronic tardiness in getting cards to qualified medical marijuana patients and caregivers.

The folks in charge of the program admit that there is, indeed, a problem, but in a letter to this rag they promise that the situation will soon be improving and the department “should be able to be caught up with backlog in two to three weeks.”

Rae Ramsdell, director of the Bureau of Health Professions — the licensing and regulatory affairs unit tasked with reviewing applications — says that the bureau is processing applicant in two days. But the letter also says staffers "are not able to get the cards in patients’ hands fast enough"  —  a major issue for people seeking the protections provided by the law that voters overwhelmingly approved in November 2008.

As for the politicians who think it is a smart move to be attacking the law and the people it is intended to help — and who will, no doubt, oppose any referendum on legalizing pot tooth and nail — we offer this statistic, provided by Ms. Ramsdell, to give you some clue as to the size of the medical marijuana movement in this state:

“To date, we have received 222,413 applications and issued 131,483 patient registrations and there are no signs of applications slowing down as yet.”

As for what’s going on over at the Bureau of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs, here’s Ramsdell’s full letter:

I would like to provide an update to Metro Times readers to follow up on your article “Getting carded: Fuming over how many months it takes for the state to issue medical marijuana cards,” which outlined the challenge the Michigan Medical Marijuana Program has faced in meeting demand.

It’s true we have difficulty issuing medical marijuana cards but we are making improvements by adding more staff, and securing additional space and equipment to better serve the needs of approved medical marijuana patients. By adding staff, we are now processing applications with two days of receipt, however as noted in your article, we are not able to get the cards in patients’ hands fast enough. We are continuing to make adjustments to keep up with demand and to better serve our customers.

Currently we have two printers printing 800 cards a day, which is not keeping up with demand so we’ve ordered new high speed equipment. Once the new printer arrives, we will be able to print 4,000 cards per day and should be able to be caught up with backlog in two to three weeks. We are also relocating staff to a bigger space to accommodate the paperwork and maintain confidentiality.

To address immediate needs, we have issued tamper-proof letters to 40,000 patients and 17,000 caregivers confirming the issuance and alerting law enforcement officials of the letter’s authenticity until a card arrives. According to state law, after the 20 days processing and printing time have elapsed, the application can then be considered valid registry identification but we understand that there are concerns that may arise with employers, law enforcement officials and others who may question the validity.

I apologize that the writer, and other customers, may find our voice mail box full on occasion but I assure you we are checking it multiple times a day. But since the issue of medical marijuana is a new frontier in many respects and many issues are unknown due to the limitations of the law, you have to understand we are getting thousands of calls a day on all things related to the issue of marijuana. Although our role according to state law is to register applicants, we continue to receive many calls from law enforcement, municipal officials, dispensaries, patients, educators, health professionals regarding a variety of legal issues outside the scope of our expertise and not provided for in statute. I promise we are doing the best we can in helping our customers with the resources we have to address a law that is vague at best.  In an effort to keep our customers up-to-date on the issue of medical marijuana registration, we do update our website regularly at www.michigan.gov/mmp with the latest information, FAQs and data.

In closing, let me share some statistics which I think will help put in perspective in the uphill battle we have faced in meeting demand for the registry. When the law was passed, we were advised that the state could expect approximately 2,000 to 50,000 applicants. To date, we have received 222,413 applications and issued 131,483 patient registrations and there are no signs of applications slowing down as yet. Thankfully by adding the staff, and relocating to bigger offices and adding new equipment in the weeks ahead, we will be better able to reduce the wait time for medical marijuana cards.

 Sincerely, Rae Ramsdell, Director

 Bureau of Health Professions

 Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs


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