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Viewpoint: Punishing patients

BY VANESSA RYCHLINSKI

Published September 18, 2011

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan to be unconstitutional Wednesday, Aug. 24. The following day, two dispensaries in Ann Arbor were raided by the Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotics Enforcement Team. State police officers, in head-to-toe black outfits complete with face masks, stood in front of MedMar on Packard and A2 Go Green Corp on Main Street. Officers loaded cardboard boxes into white vans, likely containing thousands of dollars in assets. Three staff members were arrested. With the entire hubbub, it is important to look at other recent events before speculating about the future of medical marijuana.

The Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team conducted another raid almost exactly a year ago. Spearheaded by Oakland County Sherriff Mike Bouchard, more than $750,000 worth of medicine and plants was seized from two dispensaries in Waterford Township and Ferndale, Michigan.

Voters sent a strong message in Nov. 2008 when they approved the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act by a 63 percent majority. As Chuck Ream, co-owner of MedMar, said on Thursday in an AnnArbor.com article, “I really didn’t think that they (federal police) would do this because we have so much support from the voters here.”

Unfortunately the lack of clarity in the legislation allows for many to take advantage of the system, from those participating in the industry to moralists who wish to shut it down. This latest attack on local Michigan businesses was not altogether unforeseeable. This past June, the U.S. Department of Justice stated in a public memo that people involved in cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana may be subject to federal enforcement action and potential prosecution.

When Isabella County filed the complaint that the Compassionate Apothecary in Mount Pleasant, Michigan was a “public nuisance” that violated the public health code, it was easy for the Michigan Appeals Court to rule the sale of pot between persons with state-issued cards unconstitutional (i.e. virtually all entities who make the MMMA possible).
Former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox blocked previous Drug Enforcement Administration-issued subpoenas for patient records, which demanded everything from state-issued identification cards to payment information. Cox rightfully cited the attempt as a violation of patient confidentiality. Bill Schuette, his successor, handed over the documents to the DEA after less than a week of being in office.

The MMMA has never been succinct and has never protected the people that it was supposed to empower — allowing only the “delivery” and “transfer” of medicine rather than explicit sale by a business. If the law had included some mention of dispensaries, then Michigan businesses would have had something legitimate to stand behind. Dan Riffle, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, has stated the state ought to have provided a control model for dispensaries, providing a legislative base that has been lacking thus far. The law would be clear from either side of the fence, and all dispensaries would be responsible for adhering to a set of standards. Furthermore, the state could also tax businesses, generating much-needed revenue for a depressed economy.

It seems that such legislation will be necessary if the medical marijuana industry hopes to continue. Operation within the “gray area” of the law will no longer be possible. The bottom line is marijuana used for medicinal purposes is legal — cardholders have a right to their medication. Schuette and the DOJ clearly wish for patients to look on the streets for their needs, since in two short days they have simultaneously delegitimized a process that has been approved by the people of Michigan and deprived sick people of their rights. Schuette’s job is to protect and oversee laws, not make new ones based on the fact that he’s in the pocket of pharmaceutical companies.

It’s hard to say how the industry can rebound from this setback. The day before the raids when dispensaries were ruled illegal, an intern at OM of Medicine in Ann Arbor pointed out to me, this event only serves to make any pro-pot organization that much more difficult to exist. Many small business owners saw their livelihoods literally dismantled before their eyes because of the raids, losing funds and assets as well as spirit. Despite President Barack Obama’s promises regarding medical marijuana, his administration’s DOJ has interfered more than that of former President George W. Bush. What’s even more disheartening? That in this economic downturn, a Michigan official would be willing to halt a source of revenue instead of accommodating it.

Vanessa Rychlinski is an LSA junior.