Pot watch: Michigan's medical marijuana



By Jessica Vosgerchian
Magazine Editor  On  November 10th, 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. Most states have limitations similar to Colorado’s maximum of six plants in total with three producing at a time.

But states like Colorado, Maine and Nevada provide better conditions for cultivation by not specifying where plants must be kept, which allows growers to cultivate larger plants within the quota by planting outside.

Michigan requires that medicinal marijuana plants be kept in an “enclosed area equipped with locks or other security devices that permit access only by a registered primary caregiver or registered qualifying patient.”

Even though indoor plants don’t grow as large, 12 plants could produce quite a bit. The average yield of an indoor cannabis plant in bloom is about 1.2 ounces, according to a study in the Journal of Forensic Science. As an annual species, cannabis plants grown indoors flower three to five times before dying — meaning the yearly yield of a medical marijuana grow site in Michigan could be between 43 and 72 ounces.

Medical marijuana patients in Washington used on average about 15 grams a week — or 27.5 ounces a year — with the highest amount reported being about double, according to a survey conducted in western Washington between 2001 and 2003.

Michigan beats the most liberal states concerning medical marijuana — California, Oregon and Washington — in one respect. After Montana and Rhode Island, Michigan became the third state to honor the identification of medical marijuana patients and caretakers registered in other states.

But despite all of the liberal attributes of Michigan’s marijuana law, the state failed to join California in establishing a clear, easily accessible, legal way for qualified patients to get marijuana ¬— adopting instead the mindset of the majority of medical marijuana states of “you can do it, but we won’t tell you how.”

Marc Emery, editor of Cannabis Culture magazine in British Columbia, said that states that don’t define a means of distributions leave patients little choice but to attain marijuana, or at least the starter plants, illegally.

“It’s unfortunate that the legislation didn’t define a way for patients to acquire marijuana,” Emery said. “It’s all black market illegal if the legislation didn’t provide a means for distribution.”


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