Experts discuss revisions to state medical marijuana law

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published September 12, 2017

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Almost a decade after it was overwhelmingly approved by Michigan voters, the rules and regulations stipulating medical marijuana use and cultivation are still hazy.

Municipalities across the state are now being faced with a choice: opt in to new medical marijuana laws, or keep things status quo.

State law is scheduled to change Dec. 15, allowing municipalities to opt in to five new kinds of licenses: grower, processor, provisioning center, secure transporter or safety compliance center.

Growing, or cultivation of medical marijuana, refers to three classes that involve growing up to 500 plants, 1,000 plants or 1,500 plants. Processing relates to extraction, which involves taking the product and extracting oils for patients who may have epilepsy or multiple sclerosis. Provisioning centers are akin to what is widely known as dispensaries. Secure transporters move the product, while safety compliance involves using an independent testing lab to assess the product.

These topics and more were discussed Aug. 29 at Macomb Community College’s University Center in Clinton Township. Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon led the discussion, while three local experts discussed the ramifications of the updated law: Jen Zielenski, an associate and lobbyist with government affairs organization Dunaskiss Consulting and Development Inc.; attorney Jeffrey Schroder, from the firm Plunkett Cooney; and Dr. Saqib Nakadar, an internal medicine specialist.

The current law passed in 2008, when 62.67 percent of Michiganders and 62.85 percent of Clinton Township residents voted to approve the ballot measure.

Numbers have dramatically increased, Zielenski noted. In 2016, there were 218,556 registered patients, up from 182,081 and 96,408 patients in 2015 and 2014, respectively. There were also 38,107 registered caregivers in 2016, up from 34,269 and 22,966 caregivers in 2015 and 2014, respectively.

In Macomb County alone, in 2016, there were 19,455 patients and 3,304 caregivers, as well as 1,758 physicians. Statistics were accumulated by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

State legislators introduced Public Acts 281, 282 and 283 in September 2016 to amend the state’s current law. Public Act 283 actually amends the law the most, she said, allowing for manufacturing and use of marijuana products, prohibiting butane extraction in residential areas, and defining products.

 The amendment comes on the heels of legal shortcomings over the past decade, such as where patients can find more information, how to grow in areas where the crop fails, addressing overages in production, and not properly defining the duties or authority of local municipalities.

For example, if a municipality opts in, it can choose the types of permitted licenses allowed within its borders; it can regulate the number of licenses; it can tailor ordinances to a community’s best interests; it can generate revenue from a municipal annual fee per license; and a 25-percent share of the excise tax is collected by the state.

Also, local law enforcement would not be required to enforce the rules. An estimated $8.8 million increase to the Michigan State Police would involve hiring 48 new full-time employees to oversee investigations, forensic science, intelligence operations and commercial vehicle enforcement.

Each community can make its own decision, though Zielenski hinted that communities — such as Pinconning, in Michigan’s Bay County — have experienced a spur of economic activity due to adhering to the amended law. Other reasons to opt in might include an increase in property values, vacant buildings being occupied, and more jobs for locals residents.

She mentioned that data based out of Colorado, which is nationally recognized for its affinity toward both medical and recreational marijuana, showed no increase in teenage use.

“Why wouldn’t you opt in? It’s giving you the control, it’s increasing jobs, it’s increasing revenue,” Zielenski said.

Schroder described it as a growing and budding business, though he warned those unaware that marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The law could be misinterpreted by many, he warned, which could potentially lead to state or federal prosecution.

“We’re in this weird situation where, it’s still federally illegal, it’s still unlawful, but we have a state law that’s going to protect us as long as you’re acting within the scope of the act,” Schroder said.

It hasn’t stopped anyone recently. A 134 percent increase in registered patients between 2012 and 2016 shows the prevalence of medical marijuana.

The township, if it decided to opt in, could enact spacing restrictions near places like religious institutions, schools, parks, playgrounds and licensed day care facilities. It could also seek special land use approval and exterior design standards, deviating from commonly seen buildings in Michigan that use green neon lights.

“I don’t think that’s a look that we want in the community,” Schroder said. “You want something that’s going to have a more professional look, like a medical office — something that isn’t going to stick out like a sore thumb. … I think that that sort of degrades the look of the facility and the surrounding area. This is, after all, medicine we’re talking about.”

Nakadar said science has come a long way since 2008, with cannabis continually being applied in the medical field to treat diseases like cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, post-traumatic stress disorder and severe or chronic pain.

He told the audience that patient evaluation is an integral part of the process. Assessing conditions, gathering medical records, evaluating recommendations and referrals, being educated on marijuana use and side effects, and following up on treatment effectiveness is all part of the doctor-patient relationship.

“We’re not talking about teaching them to roll a joint. We’re not teaching them how to use a bong or any of those things,” Nakadar said. “It’s come a long way.”

He said it would be wrong for individuals to not think about using a substance like cannabis — which has never been reported to cause an overdose-related death — in an era when opioid use is prevalent and drug overdoses can be achieved by doctors overprescribing medication.

“We still need someone to think about those patients — the ill people who are really getting benefit from this,” he said. “And this number is exponentially increasing outside of just the registered patients and different things going on in the medical community. We’re seeing a very large rise and influx in people interested in cannabis and looking for alternative treatments.”

Cannon, who noted that about 125 people were in attendance that evening, said the presentation was beneficial to Clinton Township officials. As for the issue of whether someone is for or against medical marijuana, he said “that train has already taken off.”

Notably, only one audience member of nearly a dozen who spoke publicly was against the law. Cannon expected at least a 50-50 split.

“I think for the general public who had no idea about the five categories of the law, it was eye-opening,” Cannon said. “I think in terms of how many ailments the doctor presented, it was eye-opening to all. … Very few people in that room — and there were attorneys, businesspeople, residents, college students — knew of the law. But they knew it was coming.”