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Agencies Prepare for Marijuana as Medicine


Nug of the Month: Aug 2008
Lynn Allen admits he doesn't have a green thumb, but he's a quick learner.

For months, the Williamston man has studied books and Web sites on marijuana growing tips, and in early April, he expects to place high intensity lamps in a bedroom closet to light a handful of flowerpots containing cannabis seeds.

In four months, the 52-year-old said, he should have a harvest of marijuana to help him deal with chronic pain from hemophilia and HIV, which he contracted from a tainted blood transfusion.

"It'll be the right time for spring planting," Allen said of the April launch.

There's change blooming in Michigan, and marijuana advocates estimate as many as 50,000 people may be using medicinal marijuana within two years under a new law set to be implemented April 6.

State officials now are doing a final review of the rules related to using medicinal marijuana. In November, Michigan voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Advocates expect 500 people to apply the first week, beginning April 6. State officials say they don't know what to expect.

"We have no idea who would want to use medical marijuana," said James McCurtis, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health, which is administering the effort. "We are going to be ready."

'A very new process'

Given the newness of the initiative - legalizing medical use of a drug that the state has criminalized for many decades - both advocates and state health officials are anticipating some road bumps with its rollout.

"This is a very new process," McCurtis said. "When you do something new, there is always a chance that some glitches will happen. We will keep those to a minimum."

Greg Francisco, executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, said he expects the biggest problems for pain sufferers will be finding doctors willing to recommend marijuana use and confusion from police officers as they educate themselves about the new law.

Under the new law, applicants must submit statements from doctors certifying that their patient fits the criteria to use marijuana, which include suffering from cancer, HIV, Crohn's disease or other conditions involving chronic pain.

"People are having trouble finding doctors, and that's one of the functions of this organization - to help find them doctors," Francisco said. "There are a few doctors willing to do the assessment. Many are afraid. It's the unknown."

Enforcing the law
Similarly, he said, law enforcement agencies still are trying to educate themselves about the new law and to determine the conditions under which marijuana can be seized. Under the law, authorized users can possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana and 12 marijuana plants for personal use; caregivers, authorized by the state to provide the marijuana, can possess a similar amount for each patient, up to five persons. Users and caregivers must keep all marijuana under lock and key.

State officials have acknowledged there are some gray areas in the new law, including whether authorized users can live within 1,000 feet of a school, or a "drug-free zone," and whether landlords can evict someone for using medicinal marijuana.

"Nobody quite knows what the law is," Francisco said. "The police are timid about this because they don't know. They are proceeding very cautiously. They don't want to get sued."

Eaton County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sauter said he recently has conducted training sessions on medicinal marijuana with police agencies, along with other legal issues, to keep confusion to a minimum.

Sauter said the new law could present "interesting challenges" in enforcement, especially if the number of qualified medicinal marijuana users reaches 50,000 statewide, as advocates predict.

"It may be some major changes for the officers," Sauter said. "The biggest thing will be a claim (of being an authorized user or caregiver), but they don't have the card. Once they see the card, it should be fairly clear."

Growing it
Francisco said one flaw in the new law is a lack of an official distribution system for marijuana. Patients can't go to a pharmacy to buy it; they must either grow the marijuana themselves or acquire it from an authorized caregiver.

"It could be better if there was some kind of distribution system," said Francisco, noting marijuana can be a tricky plant to grow. "We would like to (eventually) develop a cooperative dispensary. We are looking ahead at what we would like in two years time."

While medicinal marijuana use has been legalized in Michigan, it is still illegal under federal law. In recent years, federal agents have raided some clinics in other states that dispense the leafy medication, but President Barack Obama has pledged to stop such raids.

Michigan joins 12 other states in legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

"(Obama) is signaling that they're going to respect state laws on this," Francisco said.

Allen, who campaigned on behalf of last year's ballot measure, said he is anxious to prove to the public that a medicinal marijuana law can work in the state.

Anticipating benefits
To naysayers who worry that medicinal marijuana may pose a danger to children living in the same home, Allen said, users must keep it from youth just like any other prescribed medication.

"We have a lot of organizing to do and a lot of education to do," Allen said. "There certainly is a need out there. A lot of people will benefit from it."

News Hawk- Ganjarden 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: Lansing State Journal
Author: Scott Davis
Contact: Lansing State Journal
Copyright: 2009 Lansing State Journal
Website: Agencies Prepare for Marijuana as Medicine
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