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Michigan Bills Would Allow Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, Edibles That Courts Prohibited

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Michigan bills would allow medical marijuana dispensaries, edibles that courts prohibited



LANSING, MI -- Michigan's medical marijuana law would be updated to allow for dispensaries and edible products under legislation debated Thursday in a state House committee.


Legal experts who testified in support of the bills said they are appropriate responses to recent court decisions that limited the voter-approved law, and patients argued that they need easier access to various forms of the drug.


Still, the proposals face an uncertain future in the state Legislature, which has generally moved to tighten medical marijuana regulations since the successful 2008 ballot proposal.


House Bill 4271, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, would let communities decide whether they want to allow dispensaries. Medical marijuana storefronts had operated in Michigan until a February ruling by the state Supreme Court forced them to close.


"Local control will allow cities, townships and villages to regulate the level they feel most comfortable with," Callton said in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. "And for those communities who feel it is inappropriate, it allows them to opt out all together."


Under Callton's bill, municipalities also could require dispensaries to test their medical marijuana for quality, purity and contaminants -- or contract with a "safety compliance facility" to do so. Patients would be prohibited from using the drug on premises.


The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act does not specifically reference dispensaries, providing the basis for the state Supreme Court ruling, but patients who had obtained their medications from such facilities said they made it easier to obtain safe products in forms that suited their needs.


John Targowski, a Kalamazoo-area attorney who helped write the city's charter amendment that made marijuana the lowest possible priority for local police, has been a wheelchair user since suffering a spinal cord injury in 1999. He testified that he uses medical marijuana to treat pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.


Dispensaries, he said, had offered him access to a variety of marijuana oils and edibles that he was able to use in a professional environment.


"I go to court. I meet clients. And sometimes, particularly if it's in the day, if I need medicine I don't want to be knocked out and high," Targowski said. "The ability to pick and choose and experiment within the types of strains and products gives greater leeway to people like me who go to work everyday in a suit."


Ann Arbor City Attorney Steven Postema, who helped write that city's medical marijuana ordinances, testified in support of the dispensary bill as a means to improve the state law, which he called the "worst" in the country. He challenged lawmakers to "do the right thing" rather than deferring to the Supreme Court decision.


"It's a second step to the Medical Marihuana Act," he said. "It's not legalization. It's not forcing a community to have a dispensary, but it will be that next step to take dispensaries out of the legal limbo they are in now."


House Bill 5104, sponsored by state Rep. Eileen Kowall, would update the medical marijuana law to clarify that multiple parts of the plant -- including dried leaves, resin and extracts -- can be eaten or otherwise used by patients.


The Michigan Court of Appeals, in a July decision, ruled that "pot brownies" are not a usable form of marijuana under the medical law, essentially prohibiting non-smokable forms of the drug, including topical creams, drops and edibles. An appeal request has been filed with the Michigan Supreme Court.


"Smoking obviously delivers harmful substances to the respiratory system," said Kowall. "The community of marijuana patients and caregivers in Michigan desperately needs alternative delivery methods."


Rebecca Brown, founder of the Pediatric Cannabis Therapy Group, testified that edible marijuana is the most effective treatment method she's found for her son, who suffers from a rare disorder that causes frequent seizures.


"This is a deadly disease. It's a genetic mutation. He'll never outgrow it," said Brown, noting that her son once suffered a seizure that lasted 40 minutes but is doing well on medical marijuana. "I am asking you, please, don't let parents live that, please."


Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw Township, also testified in support of his proposal that would allow the state to regulate large-scale growing facilities and sell medical marijuana through pharmacies in the event the federal government reclassifies the drug.


Senate Bill 660, approved in the upper chamber last month, would not replace the state's caregiver-patient model, Kahn said, but would provide patients with the option to access carefully tested and consistently dosed medicine.


Former state House Speaker Chuck Perricone, now working for Prairie Plant Systems Inc. of Canada, helped write the bill and answered questions from lawmakers on Thursday.


The bio-pharmaceutical company has been Canada's primary medical marijuana provider for more than a decade and already owns a facility in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.


Committee Chairman Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, took roughly an hour and a half of testimony on the bills before ending the hearing to allow members to attend a scheduled House session.


A second hearing is scheduled for Tuesday morning in Lansing.

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