MMJ Presents Challenges for Local Communities
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MMJ Presents Challenges for Local Communities
Posted by CN Staff on May 26, 2010 at 07:07:32 PT
By Jeanne Kniaz, Voice Reporter
Source: Voice
Michigan -- In an action comparable to other communities Memphis City Council members recently introduced an ordinance that could serve to restrict the development of medicinal marijuana-related businesses through reliance on federal laws that prohibit same.Council members proposed to add an amendment that would read, "No person or business shall engage in any activity, operation or business that is in violation of any local, state or federal statute, law, ordinance or regulation."
Mayor Dan Weaver indicated council was proposing the amendment to safeguard against any number of concerns that could develop."This would cover anything that is illegal. There might be a state law that's not a federal law and not a city law but we would like it to be known that that has to be followed. As a city we support all local, state and federal statutes."Anything that people might bring into town, this is the reason we did this for businesses. We just don't want any illegal activities ...or any type of businesses that run any illegal activities. We are not trying to get rid of medical marijuana although the laws about that are not clear right now. We are just saying you can't run a business that has any activity that is against federal law," Weaver said.The council's action mirrors that of many municipalities of late as communities scramble to establish parameters while awaiting clarification on state legislation concerning medical marijuana.Other communities that have passed or are pondering passage of ordinances or moratoriums that, conceivably, could serve to restrict marijuana-related businesses include Fort Gratiot, Kimball Township, Marysville, New Baltimore and St. Clair.On Nov. 4, 2008, 63 percent of Michigan voters approved legislation that legalized the use and cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes in accordance with certain restrictions.Eighteen months later the debate rages on amongst supporters and opponents concerning the controversial Michigan Medical Marihuana Act for what it does and does not address. A Long History  Medicinal cannabis use can be traced to ancient civilizations that praised the hemp plant for its physical and psychological attributes.Egyptian and Chinese cultures used herbal therapy to ease the suffering often associated with childbirth or bouts of depression, while Greek, Indian and North African societies valued its analgesic, hypnotic or pain relieving properties. It also aided in increasing appetites, reducing irritation and alleviating nausea or indigestion.Native American peace pipes were used in conjunction with ceremonial rituals and in the early 1900s Americans popularized the drug, medicinally and recreationally, until a federal law passed in 1937 prohibited its use.Marijuana use re-emerged during the hippie and Vietnam War decades of the 1960s and 70s and, despite federal law that outlaws its use, remains a popular drug of choice. Michigan Joins The Movement  In 1996 California became the first state to pass legislation concerning medical marijuana usage and, to date, 14 other states have followed suit including Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.An overall relaxation of laws with respect to the drug seems to be sweeping the country.California is one of several locales contemplating legislation to legalize and tax marijuana sales to stimulate the economy -- a move that sounds progressively appealing to a growing number of cash-strapped states -- even as others deliberate bills to regulate medical marijuana use or ponder proposals to decriminalize the drug or reduce penalties.Punishment for a first offender of a federal marijuana possession offense is up to one year in a federal prison and a $1,000 fine.The federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits marijuana usage and state law would not shield an individual in instances where federal authorities might act but, last October, the U.S. Department of Justice announced new federal guidelines concerning the use of federal funding with respect to pursing actions in states that have adopted medical marijuana legislation.In a statement the Drug Enforcement Administration, while advocating that federal attorneys in such states uphold federal law when appropriate, also advised "It is not the practice or policy of DEA to target individuals with serious medical conditions who comply with state laws authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes."One reason for the sudden onslaught of ordinances and resolutions being passed by local municipalities seems to be the emergence of what are, in Michigan, called compassion centers.In March Debra and Jim Amsdill opened the Blue Water Compassion Center at 4731 Lapeer Road in Kimball in the Sawmill Commons shopping center, a non-profit center that is one of more than 40 such entities that have opened in Michigan.Debra Amsdill describes a compassion center as "a network of patients and caregivers to offer support, education and information to qualifying patients and other caregivers. If a patient is looking for a caregiver or another caregiver is looking for more patients we can often match them up together."After opening the couple received a ticket for violating the township's six-month moratorium against compassion centers."They passed a moratorium in their township after we had opened and then gave us a ticket for not complying with their moratorium," Amsdill said."It is time for the people to speak up. Everybody is still hiding under the blanket of 'Ooooh, baaad' but the fact of the matter is we are your sisters, your brothers, your aunts, your uncles, cousins and grandparents. With regard to the townships putting on their moratoriums and stuff, it is telling the people that your vote doesn't matter. I have a breakdown of all the counties. There wasn't one county that was under 50 percent as far as voting it in. We envision that the center be family-oriented. Patients that are suffering often want somewhere to go. They may not have funds available to do a lot of things but we encourage their families to come here with them," she said.A petition signed by 160 supporters indicates some citizen approval."The patients and caregivers will be there to stand behind them every step of the way," Judy Frantz of Port Huron said.Compassion club members assemble at clubs to engage in information sharing, social activities and, yes at some, ingesting marijuana although the state Act prohibits smoking marijuana in public."A compassion club is not a public place. ...You sign up as a member of a private club," Attorney David D. Black, a member of the Michigan Medical Education and Defense board and whose firm has offices in Lapeer, Macomb and St. Clair counties, said."What the gray area in the law is has to do with what, in California, they call dispensaries. In Michigan they are calling them compassion clubs. A compassion club is the closest thing Michigan knows to a dispensary," he added.Many feel that the dispensary situation, where storefronts appear on any street corner, is out of control in California and have no desire to see that happen here.At the moment Amsdill refrains from letting members smoke at her location but plans to in the future.Black says the activity takes place at centers across the state and suggests that blanket statements such as the proposed Memphis ordinance might not prohibit such a center from opening there or elsewhere."That violates the Michigan Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. What's going to happen is that it is going to go to the Michigan Court of Appeals. All of these issues are going to be decided at the Court of Appeals and, ultimately, the Supreme Court," he said. The Act  The Michigan Medical Marijuana Act is theoretically designed to protect registered patients and caregivers from criminal penalties provided they comply with the provisions of the law.To qualify as a medical marijuana patient an individual must apply for registration with the Michigan Department of Community Health, Bureau of Health Professions, P.O. Box 30083, Lansing, Michigan 48909.A physician must certify that a patient is suffering from a debilitating medical condition that can range from cancer to glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, agitation of Alzheimer's disease, nail patella, severe nausea, severe seizures characteristic of epilepsy or multiple sclerosis or other defined conditions.The fee to apply for an identification card or renew an application is $100 or $25 for patients who are eligible for the Medicaid Health Plan or SSD or SSI benefit recipients.The plan was that MMMP would review applications within 15 days and issue a registry identification card within five days following verification of the information but a log jam of patient and caregiver applicants, to the tune of roughly 1,000 a week, has slowed the process down and the wait could turn out to be months.Prospective caregivers must be 21 or older to register and must never have been convicted of a felony involving illegal drugs. Gray Areas  For many the image of a compassion club conjures up disconcerting images of "places where folks are allowed to get high and then are let loose on the public," Leo MacDuffy of Romeo said.The Act prohibits operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.Attorney Black says that portion of the Act presents a problem for patients who are using responsibly."Marijuana stays in your system. You could be not under the influence of marijuana and, the next day, be arrested for driving under the influence because it was detected in your system. In a drunk driving case, if they pull you over and you have it in your system, you are guilty of drunk driving. But if you are sober the next day and they pull you over, they can't say, 'Hey, you were drunk last night," he said.Other gray areas of the law are troubling to both supporters and opponents.Sean Zerilli, a promoter of healthy living and the owner of Hydro Pros Indoor Garden Center in Chesterfield, is a licensed patient but is hesitant to take on a caregiver status because of gray issues."I have thought about it and there is a good possibility I may take that on just to help others I know who have no where to turn ...but, at this time, I am honestly worried because the laws are so blurry. There is really no distinct 'yes, you can do this' or 'no, you can't do this.' They say the laws are clear but really they leave a lot of loopholes," Zerilli said."A lot of patients are afraid to come out and make it be known that they are a patient. A lot of these caregivers who are supplying the patients are also afraid to come out because they are afraid to be prosecuted. The state laws says that yes, these people are legal; yes what they are doing is okay but, realistically, some police forces, employers or others in a position of authority don't necessarily agree with what the laws say," he added.A mechanism for qualifying caregivers to legally obtain the means to grow the product; an employer's ability to prohibit medicinal usage in the workplace, and disclosure requirements are other vague issues that need addressing.A Richmond mother, who is not being identified at her request, is a registered caregiver for her son, a registered patient who was injured in an accident many years ago.She is currently at a loss as to where to go to get started with the cultivating process and the Michigan Department of Community Health is not a source for such information.Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug and cannot be prescribed by physicians."Hopefully people will come to understand that it should be sold in stores. You should not have to go out and deal with unsavory people over this kind of stuff. I feel my son has made the greatest choice available to him. His injuries are there for the rest of his life. He has rods, he's had 24 operations. You have no idea how bad this was. He is lucky to be alive," she said.Prior to smoking marijuana her son was taking a variety of prescription pain medications that would make him nauseous or "feel off.""I thought for the rest of his life he would be on pills. He had chronic pain and I never thought he would be able to work. He got a job at a factory and he couldn't stand. It was killing him and it was breaking my heart. Now he is on his feet 50 to 60 hours a week," the mother said.Although he feels like a pioneer exploring new medical frontiers, her son is hesitant to reveal his identity for fear of losing his job."Truthfully I wouldn't mind coming forward because I don't think there is anything wrong with using it as a medication and if people don't agree, they don't agree. It's an opinion.It is like any other medicine - you have to be responsible about it but, for the moment, it is something that I keep to myself. I haven't told my boss," he said.Black plans to hold a seminar in Chesterfield Township at the end of the month to educate people about medical marijuana issues."What we don't want to have done is people that are legally on medicine, just like people are legally on Vicodin, get arrested for doing something stupid because there's lots of technicalities there. ... We are trying to line up a police officer and a prosecutor. I don't want people to be afraid of the prosecutor or afraid of the police. That is my message. As long as they follow the law they won't be arrested. There are bad apples in every agency but, honestly, by and far the police respect the law and they know this is the law."Consult the website at for further details about the seminar or contact him at (810) 982-5225.Details about medical marijuana in Michigan can be obtained by logging onto and viewing the MDCH's medical marijuana program website.Jeanne Kniaz is a freelance writer. Source: Voice, The (New Baltimore, MI)Author: Jeanne Kniaz, Voice ReporterPublished: Wednesday, May 26, 2010Copyright: 2010 Journal Register CompanyContact: editor voicenews.comWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives
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