Weeding out the issue
Medical marijuana draws debate throughout state as patients seek it
With the automobile industry in shambles, Danny Trevino said Michigan needs a new identity. To him, that identity is medical marijuana. “There are two other states that are going to capitalize (on it) in the country,” he said. “It’s either going to be Michigan or California. Michigan deserves it. We have nothing, and medical marijuana is a nice way out.”
The 37-year-old owner of Hydroworld Hydroponics, 700 W. Barnes Ave., in Lansing, is offering three-day medical marijuana growing classes at his store free of charge.
After people kept coming into Trevino’s store, asking him how to produce medical marijuana, he decided to start holding classes.
“It just blew up from that point on,” he said. “I just got busy as hell. I also post billboards up all over. It lets people know what I’m about.”
Since starting the classes in January, Trevino has taught hundreds of potential medical marijuana patients and caregivers how to grow pot using fake plants, while educating them about the law and its stipulations.
“It’s been excellent,” he said. “The classes are fun and really effective. They can even call me for help as they’re (growing) their stuff.”
Although Proposal 1 passed and growing marijuana for medicinal purposes is now legal, officials throughout the state still are debating how to effectively implement medical marijuana.
East Lansing police Chief Tom Wibert said he is not opposed to medical marijuana when people obtain it legally, but there are many unanswered questions about the issue.
“What I wish is that there (was) a more formal way to handle the actual drug,” he said. “I think this would work a lot better if the pharmacies would handle the marijuana instead of allowing people to grow it themselves. It just adds unnecessary confusion.”
Lansing Community College student Bobby Dye attended one of Trevino’s classes Tuesday and said his interest in growing medical marijuana stems from the need to ease his back pain.
“I’ve used it, and I feel it does work,” he said. “It helps with sleeping and it helps with my lower back problem. It helps you forget the pain, and I think it’s stupid that you can go to jail for smoking something that grows on the earth … I don’t understand what the problem is.”
Trevino’s work is one way proponents of medical marijuana, which became legal in December 2008, have been working to address concerns about the law. They say it lacks provisions for people to safely produce their own marijuana.
Obtaining permission to grow medical marijuana is a layered process. People must first get a recommendation from a licensed physician, then designate a caregiver and finally submit an application to the Michigan Department of Community Health. If approved, a person is given an identification card. A person can become a medical marijuana user if he or she is diagnosed with and is receiving treatment for a debilitating medical condition, such as cancer or AIDS. People experiencing severe and chronic pain because of a medical condition or treatment are also eligible to obtain a license.
As of Tuesday, MDCH had received 2,467 applications, spokesman James McCurtis said. A total of 1,955 licenses have been issued, with 1,445 patients and 510 caregivers being the recipients. A total of 349 applications have been denied, mostly because they were incomplete.
“We get questions all the time, every day about the law itself,” McCurtis said. “There are a lot of different gray areas with this law.”
Much of the confusion stems from the fact that although, legal for medical purposes in Michigan, marijuana growth, cultivation, distribution and use is illegal on a federal level.
“At the bottom line it’s an illegal drug,” he said. “That’s why laws are going to crisscross like they are doing right now.”
In light of this uncertainty, various organizations, such as the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, and the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, are working to bring patients and caregivers together in hope of addressing concerns.
The Lansing Eastside Compassion Club is one of more than 30 similar groups associated with MMMA that works to address issues. The group held its first meeting in April and has functioned as a patient support group since then, founder and medical marijuana patient R.D. Winthrop said via e-mail.
“It has many educational functions pertaining to law (and) how to best use or produce cannabis suitable for medical use, and we keep members abreast politically,” he wrote. “(The) bottom line is to serve patients, so we measure by outcomes. That’s how we know we’re doing our job.”
The most recent developments regarding the law come in the form of legislation recently introduced to the state Senate. Three bills are under referral to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and, if passed, would place regulations on medical marijuana in the state.
One of the bills, Senate Bill 618, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, would require medical marijuana users to obtain a prescription for the drug from a doctor. Other provisions of the bills only would allow the drug to be grown by 10 growers throughout the state, create disciplinary measures for violations of the law and require patients to get a prescription filled by a pharmacist.
Kuipers did not return calls seeking comment on the bill, which already has raised the ire of medical marijuana proponents statewide. Steve Thompson, executive director of Michigan NORML, said the bills would negate the law passed by voters last November.
“As long as this is a so-called drug unapproved by the FDA, no doctor can write a prescription,” he said. “As long as it’s not approved, it won’t happen.”