For the past several years, medical marijuana patients in Michigan have been in a bind when it comes to getting and taking their herbal medicine. Two upsetting Michigan upper court rulings in 2013 had many cannabis users wondering where to turn and what they were allowed to do under the law. Hundreds of sick people who thought they were following the rules have been prosecuted and convicted for crimes relating their cannabis use.
In Michigan v McQueen, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that dispensaries would not qualify for immunity from prosecution or penalty under section 4 of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, opening the doors for cities and townships to prosecute dispensary owners or workers at will.
In People v Carruthers, it was the decision of the Appellate Court Judges that the use of edible, oil, or topical cannabis products were similarly not protected from prosecution, leaving patients with only one option for using cannabis: smoking.
It should be noted that in both cases, the defendants were not denied the ability to seek the affirmative defense, a section 8 protection that is available to patients who hire an attorney and go through the process of a trial.
Through all the legal twists and turns, it seems like patients and caregivers aren’t the only ones that have been confused. Lansing Police Chief Michael Yankowski expressed his frustration of the current legislative plight. “We have been very confused with the medical marijuana laws, and they keep changing. And so we’re looking for some final resolve on what the laws are going to be so we can enforce them.”
Clarity which, he says, would come with the passage of two bills that were reintroduced into the House of Representatives today. After fizzling out in the Senate in December, the bills addressing provisioning centers (SB142) and concentrates (SB140) were rewritten and submitted by Rep Mike Callton (R-Nashville) and Rep Lisa Lyons (R-Alto), respectively.
HB4209, a proposal to create provisioning centers, is geared toward giving patients more access to the cannabis they need. Callton explains, “This is a patient safety issue that is absent in the current model.”
Currently, patients can only get cannabis from their own garden or from their one registered caregiver, depending on which they’ve elected on their application. Many patients have expressed difficulties with the consistency of available medicine in this model since gardens sometimes fail and there’s a long wait time from seed to harvest.
The bill would permit cities to allow the operation of provisioning centers, sometimes referred to as dispensaries. Cannabis sold at provisioning centers, provided by caregivers when they have unassigned marijuana, would be required to undergo safety testing, and law enforcement would be allowed to inspect the centers for compliance.
Alternative delivery forms are at the focus of HB4210 which would include concentrates, edibles, and topical forms of cannabis in the definition of usable marijuana, thus giving protection to the patients that use them.
Little Bella Chinonis is one such patient. At 6 years old, Bella has already found relief from seizures after only one month of being on cannabis extract oil. The oil is similar to essential oil, extracted from the resin of cannabis and refined into a concentrated form that can be ingested as is or processed into food or capsules. Bella was born with 1P36 Deletion Syndrome, which refers to a part of a chromosome that she is missing. Her mother, Ida Chinonis said she made the decision to try medical marijuana after Bella had a seizure that lasted an entire weekend, and it’s already helping.
“It’s actually helping control her seizures. They have gone from 10 minute full on tonic-clonic seizures down to 10 seconds. She comes right out of them. She’s starting to engage when you ask her questions: she’s looking at you and trying to mouth an answer.”
But the good news comes with worry too. Under the current climate, Chinonis worries that she could be prosecuted for giving her daughter oil or that Child Protective Services could step in at any point. She is hopeful that today’s proposals will quickly bring peace of mind about treating her daughter’s condition. In the meantime, she says she’s prepared if the worst does happen. “I will go to bat for her for whatever I need to do.”
Some patients are skeptical that these bills will be given more opportunity than their counterparts from last session, when the Michigan Sheriff’s Association campaigned at the last minute to kill the bills. Lyons says the key this time around is to take a team approach in addressing the concerns of the bills. “Bringing partners together is key to this…. It’s not just law enforcement we’re working with…. We have a duty as law makers and enforcers and those who carry out the judicial system to get this right together.”
The overwhelmingly clear message today was that the top priority was upholding patient safety. Lyons sees this as a way to avoid the criminal, social, and health injustices that she’s witnessed in the past years. “These are not criminals! They are patients! They are people and we have to remember that.”
Detroit City Councilman James Tate also showed his support for the proposals, as well as Sens. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights), and Coleman Young II (D-Detroit).