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Pot watch: Michigan's medical marijuana

Magazine Editor
Published November 10, 2008

A resounding 63 percent of Michigan voters passed an initiative that made Michigan the 15th state to allow for the use of medical marijuana.

But there is medical marijuana and then there is “medical” marijuana. The first is strictly limited to sufferers of chronic and terminal ailments, while the second variety can be accessed people who can convince their doctors that toking up is the only way to treat headaches.

From state to state, medical marijuana legislation varies in a number of nuanced ways that affect the way the market operates.

In Hawai’i, marijuana concentrate is defined in the legislation as the same as dry marijuana — making the state one of the only to allow patients to use hash. Colorado’s law requires police to keep confiscated marijuana alive while the legitimacy of a defendant’s claim to medical marijuana rights is examined.

Arizona and Maryland, meanwhile, have hazier laws that recognize the medicinal use of marijuana but don’t go as far as the others.

Arizona passed its legislation in 1996, joining California to become the first places in the United States where medical marijuana was legal. But in practice, the wording of the Arizona bill giving doctors the right to “prescribe” marijuana makes the law ineffective — prescribing a Schedule 1 drug like marijuana is against federal law, and Arizona still hasn’t amended its legislation to recognize doctors’ recommendations as other states do.

Maryland has made possession of less than one ounce of marijuana an offense with a maximum fine of $100 for defendants who can prove that their use of marijuana is “medical necessity.”

Of the 13 states that regulate medical marijuana, Michigan’s new law falls somewhere in the middle — not condoning a full out bake sale like in California but not without potential to make things better for the state’s recreational users.

By far, California does the most to accommodate medical marijuana by forgoing a maximum limit on possession and endorsing a system of distribution.

A 1996 California bill allows counties to set their own limits on medical marijuana possession, but requires that no limit be less than eight ounces of processed marijuana and six producing or 12 immature plants. This legislation thwarted “zero tolerance” policies in Fresno County while giving free reign to Sonoma County to enact its current limitation — three pounds of processed weed and 99 plants in a 100-square-foot growing area.

California also stands alone as the only state whose laws create a means of distribution that benefits patients and growers. While distributing marijuana for profit is prohibited in California, the medical marijuana law does allow patients to pay caretakers or other qualified patients for the costs of providing marijuana.

The law also includes an allowance for qualified patients and caretakers “to collectively or cooperatively cultivate marijuana for medical purposes.”

This part of the legislation led to California’s fabled Cannabis Clubs — dispensaries where patients and caretakers can show their ID cards to gain access to a wide breadth of marijuana products, including candy, baked goods, mouth sprays and, of course, exceptionally potent weed.

“It’s kind of like Willy Wonka’s factory, but for weed,” said EG, an LSA junior from California who asked to go by his initials because he doesn’t have a permit to use medical marijuana.

EG knows how California’s medical marijuana laws benefit recreational users. He put in an order last weekend with a friend with a qualified patient card back home to send him pot lollipops and brownies.

“Everybody has a friend or a few friends who have cards, or a friend of a friend who has a card,” he said. “Most of the people I know who have them might claim that they actually have a problem, but for the most part they don’t,”

Michigan’s law also allows caretakers to be compensated, and unlike states like Vermont, puts no restrictions on the number of patients a caretaker can take on. This does not open the door for Cannabis Club-style dispensaries as caretakers or patients growing weed for themselves must keep their store in a locked facility only they can access.

But while Michigan’s medical marijuana law likely won’t lead to a pot-cicle shop on State Street, they’re more liberal than most.

Of the 12 states that enforce possession maximums, only Oregon goes above Michigan’s maximum of 2.5 ounces and 12 plants by allowing patients to possess up to 24 ounces of useable marijuana along with 18 plants under 12 inches and six mature plants.

It’s exceptional that Michigan’s law doesn’t put a limit on size or make a distinction between immature and mature plants — mature meaning a plant with flowers that can be harvested, dried and smoked.