|Graphic: Medical Marijuana Blog|
One year into Michigan’s medical marijuana law, health officials can’t keep up with the demand.
Because of a growing backlog of about 3,000 applications, those wishing to use marijuana medically or grow it for patients have a three-month wait for registry cards, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health, reports Scott Davis at Lansing State Journal.
“We’re (now) getting a thousand applications a week,” said department spokesman James McCurtis. “It’s going to take some time to get through all applications, even with new help.”
The department said it had issued 13,239 permits for use of marijuana and 5,460 permits for caregivers to grow it, as of April 16. The program kicked off in April 2009.
Marijuana advocates say the lengthy application delay is causing problems for many patients statewide, who police continue to arrest for possessing marijuana.
The state health department is obligated under state law to issue registry cards on approved medical marijuana applications within 20 days. But a provision allows the applicant to use a copy of the submitted application to serve as valid registry identification after 20 days have passed.
Police are unjustly arresting applicants because they won’t accept the application copy as a legitimate substitute for a registry card, according to Greg Francisco, executive director of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association.
“It’s been a major problem for a long time,” Francisco said. “Police are saying: ‘We have no way of knowing if that person got a denial letter,’ and they’ll go ahead and make an arrest and let the court work it out.”
Francisco said although a judge often will throw out the charges in court, the arrest is still a very stressful process for gravely ill patients.
“They still have the distress, the cost and being dragged through the criminal justice system,” Francisco said. “These people are suffering actual harm.”
McCurtis claimed the department is trying to address the application backlog by adding two temporary workers to assist the three full-time employees who process applications. Three more temporary workers are expected to be added later this year, he said.
McCurtis admitted the department underestimated the demand for medical marijuana permits.
“It started out with a hundred or so applications,” McCurtis said. “We had no idea of how many applications we were going to get. We didn’t want to hire employees and have them sitting around twiddling their thumbs.”
McCurtis said the program is designed to be self-funded by a $100 application fee.