Despite recent election trends to loosen legalization of marijuana in some states, Michigan is in more of a mode to tighten some stances. In particular, it’s been focused on redefining medical marijuana use.
And those changes are already in effect.
“People don't understand the laws around medical marijuana," said Mark Kilgore, Community Organizer for CARE of Southeast Michigan. Many, says Kilgore, think it is legal in general for everyone, simply because the state has the medical provisions.
"And, since Michigan had recommended changes to close loopholes of the Medical Marihuana Law, that has happened now,” he said. “As of December 28, 2012, Governor Snyder signed those changes into law and they were effective immediately.”
The laws affected span from the state legislation blueprint for medical marijuana certification, House Bills 4834, 4851, 4853 and 4856. Sponsored by Representatives Gail Haines, Philip M. Cavanagh, Ed McBroom, and Ben Glardon respectively, there is now more accountability for medical marijuana users and a general tightening of procedures.
In a legal analysis from the House Fiscal Agency, the first thing that jumps out is why they spell the word “marihuana.” Since any number of bad jokes can be made at the expense of the architects of that move, it’s probably best to simply say that a “j” is pretty much the exclusive for the spelling of marijuana and not an “h,” although the pronunciation is that of an “h.” So, yes, we are talking about the same substance, despite the government’s proclivity to spell it differently from 99.99 percent of the rest of the world.
Also, changes by Executive Order No. 2011-4 transferred the governing facility overseeing medical marijuana use from the Department of Community Health, which is under the Bureau of Health Professions, to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA.
How many people did that slip by – and what will that mean long-term for Michigan?
Nevertheless, our 2012 state legislators were hard at work, as compared to, say, their federal counterparts. The first phase of that work requires a tightening of the medical marijuana photo I.D. and revises confidentiality provisions. That is offset by a doubling of length for patient/caregiver certification and extends card-holders to two years, instead of one.
Also, all certification cards must contain a photo. An applicant is required to submit two color photos or the equivalent of the applicant’s driver’s license/state personal I.D. photo. That depiction must reflect a current appearance (be no older than an appearance six months previous), comply with size requirements, and disclose a full-faced shot in a front-view pose against a plain white or off-white background. The hair or hairline cannot be obscured by a hat or any headgear, and there can be no dark or non-prescription glasses worn, unless they’re a medical necessity.
LARA is now required to enter into a contract with a private contractor to assist in issuing the cards, and the latter must help with that processing. However, LARA retains the final authority to determine who receives approval. At all times, the contractor must also adhere to any confidentiality provisions.
Until now, LARA was required to verify to law enforcement personnel if a card is valid or to provide reasonable assurance. However, no one will be granted access to information about patients or the doctors prescribing for them, with two exceptions: Authorized LARA employees or contractor employees during the course of official duties; and state or local law enforcement officials who can meet two criteria. They must be acting in the course of official duties and have the registry I.D. number, name, birthdate or address of a patient/caregiver. Or, LARA must be able to confirm or refute the officer’s/official’s reasonable suspicion that a violation of the medical marijuana act was committed by that individual being inquired about at that address for which information was provided.
Greater policing has also resulted from substitutions for the original language.
Violations of the required confidentiality will be subject to existing criminal penalties for a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of not more than $1,000.
The wording of “bona fide physician/patient relationship” in establishing a medical need for the drug has now also been given more definition. From here on out, that relationship must encompass a treatment or counseling relationship between a physician and patient. That entails proof of relevant medical records, including a medical history, current medical and psychological assessments and in-person exam/s. It must reflect follow-up care and exams as well as networking as appropriate with other physicians the patient sees.
Also, any physician’s written assessment must specify what the patient’s debilitating medical condition is in creating the need for medical marijuana and indicate which medical tests determined that need.
A new definition has emerged for the “enclosed, locked facility” for medical marijuana. This can now mean a closet, room or other fully-enclosed, secured area.
With transport of the substance, there are now additions made to the Michigan Penal Code. That means medical marijuana carried in or on a motor vehicle or any other self-propelled land vehicle must be enclosed in a case, placed in the vehicle’s trunk and be inaccessible from the vehicle’s interior. Violations of this could result in a misdemeanor and encompass up to 93 days of imprisonment or a $500 fine.
When it comes to associated lawbreakers, here’s what licensed users face if selling to anyone who is unlicensed: It’s a felony with up to two years’ imprisonment and a $2,000 fine, or both, as well as other penalties — such as revocation of the registry I.D. card. It has also now merged into a Class G felony against the Public Trust.
The Fiscal Agency reports that the costs vs. revenues earned with the recent changes will pretty much be a wash within the state budget. Although hiring of the outside contractor to assist LARA and the lengthening of the cardholders’ certification adds to expense and cuts back on revenues respectively, the state hopes to offset expenses with income generated overall.
Meanwhile, community groups trying to keep their cities safe from substance abuse and any associated crime are focused on their battles in the war on drugs. They are encouraged, however, that changes in the medical marijuana provisions should help clarify laws and make it tougher to pass blanket legalization of marijuana in Michigan.
Kilgore agrees it is an uphill battle at times to keep marijuana limited for medical use, but for him and others trying to keep their cities free of addictions and any related crimes, every day is a trip to the trenches.
"The use of marijuana among teens is increasing, and the perception of the harm of use is decreasing," Kilgore said. "I am (even) seeing more parents smoking marijuana with their children."
For specific information on the medical marijuana changes, go to: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2011-2012/billanalysis/House/pdf/2011-HLA-4834-1.pdf
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