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Local organizer supports, explains medical marijuana issues
Local organizer supports, explains medical marijuana issues
By Deborah Klinger
Source: www.zwire.com
03/02/2009

At the 2008 General Election voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, which allows licensed physicians to discuss medical marijuana with their patients and to recommend its use as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

According to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, a registered non-profit organization dedicated to advocating the rights of Michigan's medical marijuana patients, marijuana has been known as a medicinal herb for thousands of years. Patients wishing to seek the use of marijuana as a treatment option must speak with their doctor about obtaining a medical marijuana certification.

"The doctor is the gatekeeper," said Greg Francisco of Gobles, Executive Director for the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association. Francisco said, under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, physicians can recommend medical marijuana to patients suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, agitation of Alzheimer's disease and nail patella syndrome. A patient may also qualify if he or she suffers from a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition, or if treatment for such produces one or more of the following: Cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, including but not limited to those characteristic of epilepsy and severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those characteristic of multiple sclerosis.

"If a patient meets the medical criteria, and the doctor feels that the patient will receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the medical use of marijuana, the doctor will provide the patient with an official recommendation. Since medical marijuana is not an FDA-approved drug, doctors cannot prescribe its use. They can only recommend it," said Francisco.

A patient registry was established with the Michigan Department of Community Health to identify legitimate medical marijuana patients and their caregivers. Patients having their doctor's recommendation must then apply to the Michigan Department of Community Health, which has 20 days to approve or deny an application and issue successful applicants a medical marijuana identification card. There is a $100 application fee.

"There is no review or overruling in this process. All applicants are approved as long as their accompanying physician recommendations are valid, and they meet residency requirements and requirements associated with applications from minors," said Francisco.

Although the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act went into effect on December 4, 2008, applications for registry are not being accepted by the State until April 6, 2009. The first cards are expected to be issued by April 24, 2009.

Under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, patients who have successfully registered may possess up to 2.5 oz. of marijuana. Patients may also cultivate up to 12 plants in an enclosed locked facility. If a patient is unwilling or unable to grow their own, the patient may appoint a caregiver to assist with the cultivation of medical marijuana. That caregiver must be identified on the patient's registry identification card.

Although patients may transfer medical marijuana to other registered patients, there is an enhanced penalty of an additional two years of jail time and a $5,000 fine for diverting marijuana to an illicit market. Though medical marijuana patients, their caregivers and health care providers are protected from criminal or civil sanction, anyone selling or distributing marijuana is not.

"Patients should also be aware that employers do not have to accommodate medical marijuana use in the work place. An employee may be a registered medical marijuana patient and still be required to participate in on-the-job drug testing," said Francisco.

The State of Michigan is projecting about 2,000 registrants, but Francisco believes that will be an underestimate. "Michigan is the 13th state to protect medical marijuana patients. Data shows that half of one percent of the population, which equals 50,000 people, have registered in each of the 12 states that have Medical Marijuana Acts in place," said Francisco.

He also noted that, according to the USDA, Michigan is the 12th largest producer of marijuana in the United States, worth about $350 million (tax free) dollars annually. Only corn and soybean ranked in higher.

"Our organization is making a maximum effort to work with law enforcement to ensure a smooth implementation. We are hoping that law enforcement will respect the liberties, and we encourage our members to respect the limits," said Francisco.

The Michigan Medical Marijuana Association currently has a membership of about 1,400 with about 25 to 50 new patients joining each day. Membership, which costs $20 a year, is open to everyone.

According to Francisco, who holds a Master's degree in community counseling, the organization's membership includes patients, caregivers, health and legal professionals, the general public and dedicated staff members. Their mission is centered around patients, and providing them access to information, physicians, caregivers and attorneys.

The organization also acts as a voice for patient rights in Lansing and the media. Members organize events to benefit patients, provide education and training to patients and caregivers, and share information via www.MichiganMedicalMarijuana.org.

For more information on the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act or for membership inquiries, call the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association at (269) 628-4340 or visit the website at www.MichiganMedicalMarijuana.org.