Eye on Lansing Michigan lawmakers seek medical marijuana changes

By Tim Martin

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan Republicans said Tuesday they are introducing legislation aimed at clarifying the state's voter-approved 2008 law related to growing, selling and qualifying to use medical marijuana.

The proposed changes would require stricter doctor-patient relationships before a patient could get authorization to use the drug. Supporters said it would crack down on the practice of doctors certifying patients to use medicinal marijuana without ever seeing them.

Other provisions likely would result in fewer medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. Zoning guidelines would be clarified so local governments would have a better idea of how to regulate them under state law.

Law enforcement, local communities, courts and some patients have been locked in disputes about what's legal and what isn't since shortly after the law was approved.

Advocates of medical marijuana say nothing in the law prohibits dispensaries and collective growing facilities, and that communities are ignoring the will of Michigan voters by cracking down on those businesses.

Many Michigan communities have said state law isn't clear or is largely silent on how the drug can be grown and distributed by anyone other than patients or caregivers, or how plants and seeds can be bought in the first place.

"The point is, confusion reigns," said Rep. John Walsh, a Republican from Livonia and a key sponsor of the legislative package. "The existing law is unclear."

Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette said the current law has "more holes than Swiss cheese." Schuette said he has filed a brief in support of the city of Livonia's policies that critics say effectively ban the use or sale of medical marijuana.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Livonia and a few other Michigan communities over the policies. The new bills likely would run into opposition from medical marijuana supporters worried about legislative interference that could make the drug more difficult to get for some patients.

"It seems as if there's more and more bills coming out trying to prohibit behavior," said Michael Komorn, an attorney and president of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association. "The theme has been to view this from a law enforcement standpoint and not from a medical marijuana community standpoint."

Since the law was originally approved by voters, some of the changes would require support from three-fourths majorities in both the House and Senate.

Walsh said the legislation would be worked on over the summer and could be voted on in the fall.

Michigan allows marijuana to be used to alleviate the symptoms of certain illnesses if someone sees a doctor and gets a state-issued card. People can possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of ready-to-use marijuana and have up to 12 plants in a secure, locked area. They can arrange for caregivers, who are limited to five patients each, to grow plants for them.

Schuette issued an attorney general's opinion Tuesday that he said is aimed at making clear that each patient's plants must be grown and maintained in a separate, enclosed and locked facility.

The state has issued more than 80,000 patient registrations since the program began.

Published: Thu, Jun 30, 2011