Giving medicinal cannabis patients a mixed bag — with some things they asked for, and some things they opposed — the Michigan House passed a series of bills on Thursday to modify the state’s medical marijuana law.
The changes include rules for the relationship between a patient and the doctor who authorizes medical marijuana use, and law enforcement access to the state’s patient registry, report Dawn Bell and Bill Laitner of the Detroit Free Press.
The four bills were all adopted on bipartisan votes, clearing the three-fourths majority needed to amend a voter-enacted law (Michigan voters legalized medical marijuana in 2008).
Similar majorities will be needed in the Michigan Senate before the changes become law, “but I do think we’ve sent a package they can adopt,” said an optimistic Rep. John Walsh (R-Livonia), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Backers of the package of bills said the changes were needed to “clarify” the act approved by voters in November 2008. They said the regulations would protect legitimate patients, while curbing potential abuses.
|Rep. John Walsh: Lawmakers concerned about patients’ doors being broken down “felt that was awfully harsh and a waste of police resources when a simple review would show whether the home was owned by a caregiver or patient”
But opponents of the package said some of the changes give police excessive power to snoop on state computers for names of registered medical marijuana patients.
“This leaves it open season to harass anyone pulled over with a driver’s license,” said medicinal cannabis patient Steven Greene, 46, of Lyon Township, host of the weekly “Medical Marijuana Radio Show” on WDTW-AM (1310).
The goal was to prevent police from breaking down doors and raiding homes of law-abiding medical marijuana patients, according to Rep. Walsh.
Lawmakers “felt that was awfully harsh and a waste of police resources when a simple review would show whether the home was owned by a (state-registered) caregiver or patient,” Walsh said.
That bill, sponsored by state Rep. Gail Haines (R-Waterford), one of four in the package, would require Michigan’s medical marijuana cards to have patient photo IDs. It would also let police check the state’s computers to verify the patient’s status if they were pulled over for a traffic stop or if police had received a complaint about marijuana being grown in a house, Walsh said.
Another change, applauded by many advocates, would give registered patients the right to claim an affirmative defense in court, something prosecutors and judges have often failed to uphold, according to attorney Matt Newburg.
“We’ve had a lot of courts that don’t even let the jury hear that a defendant is a state-approved patient or caregiver,” Newburg, who has offices in Detroit and Lansing, said.
Strengthening the affirmative defense and allowing users to grow marijuana outdoors as long as it’s in a fully enclosed area were in a bill sponsored by state Rep. Philip Cavanagh (D-Redford Township).
“My sense is that this is only the first phase” of changes to the medical marijuana law, Rep. Cavanagh said. The Legislature should “tackle the dispensary issue” by looking at how other medical marijuana states have licensed and taxed the shops that “provide safe distribution of this drug,” he said.
Notoriously anti-marijuana Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette issued an opinion in August that dispensaries and other facilities selling medical marijuana were illegal in the state.
Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) voted against all four bills in the package, but acknowledge that the package has some positive attributes, adding that the House members who crafted the bills “did not succumb to some of the ‘reefer madness’ that can accompany this issue,” reports AnnArbor.com
Irwin said he was apprehensive about increasing law enforcement’s involvement in the medical marijuana law (by increasing police access to the registry) when “the top law enforcement official in the state has gone rogue.” He was referring to Atty. Gen. Schuette’s rigid and patient-unfriendly interpretation of several of the voter-approved medical marijuana law’s provisions.