Lawyers urge state regulation of medical marijuana

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- Michigan should look to Colorado and get more involved in medical marijuana by allowing commercial growers and regulating the industry, say lawyers who met on Mackinac Island to discuss one of the state's most contentious issues.

Members of the criminal law section of the State Bar of Michigan plan to take their recommendations to the State Bar's annual meeting in September. The ultimate goal is to get the Legislature to make significant changes without stepping on the medical marijuana law approved by voters in 2008, said attorney Ken Malkin of Bay City.

"You've got all these people planting little gardens all over. Who knows what people are getting?" Malkin, who chairs the criminal law section, said in an interview this week. "There is no quality control. It creates a black market."

Roughly 50 people, including lawyers, judges and prosecutors, met last weekend and heard from Denver attorney Warren Edson, who specializes in setting up medical marijuana centers in Colorado.

Medical marijuana is more than 10 years old in Colorado. On July 1, dozens of rules take effect there regulating the sale of pot at commercial businesses. They cover much ground, including taxes, video surveillance, labeling, disposal and food that can contain marijuana.

"We were quite impressed," Malkin said.

In Michigan, marijuana can 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 kept in a locked area. A registered caregiver also can grow the drug for them.

The law, however, has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty. Some judges have decided to ignore it because federal law prohibits possession of marijuana. Some prosecutors have filed charges against people who run dispensaries, claiming there's nothing in the law that allows them. The Michigan Supreme Court has not weighed in yet, although some cases have been appealed.

The law has been the "subject of so much interpretation by so many entities, it's creating disparities throughout the state," said Elaine Spiliopoulos, an attorney in Washtenaw County.

It's unlikely that Michigan's chief law enforcer will endorse the consensus from the weekend marijuana meeting.

"The law enforcement community is already struggling to protect public safety as a result of massive loopholes in the law, so opening the floodgates is the last thing that should be talked about right now," Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. "The voters did not count on pot shops up and down Main Street, nor did they approve of a California or Colorado-style system."

Schuette, who was elected in 2010, opposed the 2008 referendum.

Malkin said a strict regulatory structure could bring some clarity to medical marijuana in Michigan.

"You could reduce the cost of a lot of litigation. You don't always need to have a judge decide it," he said.

The lawyers are also recommending that Michigan lawmakers classify marijuana as a Schedule III drug instead of Schedule I, which would recognize its medicinal purpose and clear the way for scientific research without legal liability, said Charles Marr, a Northville attorney. It would still be illegal as a recreational drug.

Published: Fri, Jun 24, 2011