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Medical marijuana is legal; Michigan needs sensible policy to provide it

Nearly five years after the passage of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, the biggest obstacle for patients who want to use marijuana remains ... actually getting some.

That’s why House Bill4271, the Medical Marihuana Provisioning Center Regulation Act, is so important. Introduced by Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, HB 4271 gives local municipalities the choice of whether they will allow so-called “dispensaries” or other entities to sell marijuana. This is a fair solution to a problem that has dogged the state since the MMMA was approved by 63 percent of voters in 2008.

The law tells patients that they can have marijuana, but says little about the where and how. Patients can grow it themselves or they can have a caretaker grow it for them. This puts them in a curious situation.

Consider people who have never had anything to do with marijuana and find themselves with an illness that would be relieved by it. Cultivating an indoor garden takes a fair amount of effort and must be tended every day. You have to have the space, and it takes. at minimum, a few hundred dollars’ worth of equipment. You can face interruptions from power outages or absences, and crop infestations from insects or disease. When folks need an uninterrupted supply of medication, they need a back-up plan.

The caretaker option means you have to enter a relationship with someone you may not know well for a situation where you have to share intimate personal information. That is particularly troublesome in an atmosphere where many still regard marijuana users as criminals or degenerates, even if they have medical certification.

If we are going to allow medical marijuana in Michigan, then we need reasonable ways for patients to get it – ways that don’t force them into criminal interactions. The Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled that dispensaries are not allowed under present law. But it didn’t settle how patients are supposed to be able to get an uninterrupted supply of medication, as intended by the state’s voters.

The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. However, the ameliorative effects of the substance – relief from pain and nausea, an appetite enhancer – are well-known. What is less well-known is that the federal government had held a patent on the medical use of cannabinoids (the active substances in marijuana, including THC) as an antioxidant since 2004. And the National Cancer Institute recently added a page to its website titled “Cannabis and Cancer.” The NCI cites the “anti-tumor effects of cannabinoids.”

Anyone who looks at the mounting scientific and anecdotal evidence available would agree that the government should at least allow human trials to determine how marijuana can be medically useful.

Medical marijuana is not going to disappear. Voters in 18 states and Washington, D.C., have opted to allow it -- and several more states are considering legislation to do the same.

It makes sense to create workable policies now. Yes there will be some abuse. But forcing sick people to live in pain or die because of that is like taking away everybody’s driver’s license because some people drive too fast. Actually, a lot of people drive too fast and sometimes the outcome is death. No one has ever died from a marijuana overdose.

Callton has assembled an impressive array of 16 cosponsors for HB 4271, including conservative heavy hitters such as Reps. Jon Bumstead of Newaygo and Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills. On March 16, the National Patients Rights Association held a fundraiser at the Ann Arbor Art Center to support efforts to pass the legislation, raising $23,000 for lobbying and other efforts. This is not a ragged and unorganized group.

Maybe the best part of the bill is that it allows local municipalities to make their own call on whether they want to allow dispensaries in their communities. It’s certainly worthy of some thoughtful consideration. It takes distribution of a medical substance away from the criminals, allows standards to be set in place and is a humane and compassionate policy.

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