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Burning Issues With Medical Pot


bobandtorey
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In 2008, Wayne County voters helped legalize medical marijuana in Michigan by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. But, more than five years later, the county has among the lowest enrollment in the Michigan Medical Marihuana Program, according to data provided by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and the U.S. Census Bureau.

 

 

Yet, only one county in the state — Huron at the tip of the thumb — has fewer certified medical marijuana patients that Wayne, the state’s most densely populated county, researchers have found. And early studies indicate that Wayne’s surprisingly low numbers are fueled by racial disparities in how marijuana users perceive and engage with the state’s drug laws.

 

 

“There’s a division across race and space,” said Juliette Roddy, an economist at U-M Dearborn, who has been researching racial divides in marijuana use among urban and suburban smokers in southeast Michigan. “They’re using quite differently and it manifests itself ... in a number of different ways.”

 

In Detroit, where more than 80 percent of the population is black, marijuana users haven’t changed the way they interact with the drug since 2008, Roddy said, based on

preliminary findings.

 

“I wasn’t even sure that they were aware that the laws had changed,” she said. “They were still smoking the same weed and acquiring it in the same way that they did before. They certainly weren’t carding and they certainly were not using medical language to describe their use.”

 

 

Suburban users, on the other hand, were more likely to get medical marijuana licenses, smoke more marijuana and even change the way they talk about pot. It was no longer their marijuana, but their medicine, Roddy said. As a result, their pot use was legally protected, while the urban group’s was not.

 

“I saw one group at risk for criminal penalties and one group that was going to skate by,” said Roddy. “And I suspected the one group that was no longer at risk for criminal penalty was actually using more.”

 

The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug — a drug without medical value users are likely to abuse. A user in Michigan is technically violating federal law, but the Obama administration has urged federal agencies to recognize state laws. Michigan’s law protects medical pot users with state-issued licenses.

 

In Wayne County, state police made over 22 marijuana possession arrests for every 10,000 residents in 2012, according to information provided by the Michigan State Police in response to a public records request. That’s nearly double the number for Oakland, Macomb and Livingston counties.

 

Crime data and statistics were not available for 2013 at the time they were requested.

Paul Draus, a sociologist at UM Dearborn who leads the marijuana-usage study along with Roddy, offered three reasons why many black marijuana users in Detroit are choosing not to get carded:

■Unlike suburban users, city residents have no interest in seeing doctors or being labeled as patients for their marijuana use.

 

■Detroit voters passed Proposal M in 2012, which decriminalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use, medical or not. Law enforcement can still, however, make arrests for possession under state and federal laws.

 

■It’s economics, Draus said. Marijuana users in the city already have easy access to the drug at an affordable price without the hassle of getting a card.

 

Qualifying patients must pay $100 for a medical marijuana license, although the state offers a reduced rate of $25 to those with full Medicaid benefits or supplemental income from Social Security. While it’s not a lot of money, it also isn’t a necessary expense, Draus said.

 

And to some, medical marijuana may be viewed as an inferior product, he added.

 

“Street marijuana has sometimes been described as ‘loud marijuana.’ They see it as being more powerful and more potent,” said Draus. “There seems to be a preference for getting marijuana that is not medical marijuana.”

 

Mark Greenwald, a psychologist and substance abuse researcher at Wayne State University, said economic factors play a role in an individual’s decision to enroll in the program, and money trumps a patient’s race or the pot’s potency.

 

“I think money is always going to be the biggest obstacle in this case, more so than other sociodemographic factors,” Greenwald said.

 

Greenwald, who has previously teamed with Roddy and Draus to research heroin use, now runs a project that looks into marijuana use among patients at the largest HIV clinic in Detroit. The racial demographics of the clinic reflect those of Detroit, he said, with the majority of his patients being African American.

 

HIV and AIDS patients in Michigan are eligible for medical marijuana licenses, as both are considered “qualifying conditions” by state law. Wayne County has more HIV patients than any county in the state, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.

 

“Many individuals express an interest in maybe getting certified, but they haven’t taken any action steps. Others have just said, ‘I won’t get certified, it’s just too costly,’ ” he said. “Even smaller proportions say, ‘I just don’t know how to get certified.’ ”

 

As part of his project, Greenwald educates potential medical marijuana users on how to take steps to become certified patients. Greenwald, however, prefers to describe the patient’s intent to use marijuana as “therapeutic,” as he feels the term “medical” can be misleading.

 

Physicians cannot prescribe marijuana under the federal laws and marijuana’s true medical value is uncertain, he said. But, he added, there is hope that certain compounds in cannabis plants could be developed into safe and effective therapies.

 

“We need more science to inform the debate, because otherwise we’re really engaging in an act of cultural ignorance,” said Greenwald, “exposing individuals to potential harms that may not necessarily outweigh the benefits.”

 

Roddy, who is applying for a grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate the “public health impact of marijuana,” said she thinks more research will help demonstrate the Michigan medical marijuana program’s social and societal impact.

 

Statistics from the state Department of Licensing are broken down only to the county level and contain no racial information, which the researchers said makes it difficult to flesh out how marijuana licensing varies across communities and different demographics.

 

But are the trends Roddy and Draus notice in and around Detroit consistent with pot usage patterns in other cities? Roddy said there’s no way of knowing. Not yet.

 

Although researchers from across the country are interested in similar marijuana-use questions, they’re not collecting data, Roddy said. “The trends make sense to them, but they can’t say if it’s going on where they are.”

 

Roddy said her early results are telling. There are certainly geographical differences in medical marijuana enrollment and, at least in Detroit, race seems to influence whether a user chooses to become carded or not.

 

“Calling it ‘medical use’ when I see people using for the same reasons, but some show barriers to engage with the system legally is wrong,” she said. “And I think those barriers have racial undertones.”

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140717/METRO01/307170037#ixzz37jv1XPJ2

Edited by bobandtorey
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I wouldnt register if I lived in detroit either, it is decriminalized thats good enough for me, and come on its detroit, I grew way before the law there with not one indcident, but I dont have loose lips lol!

 

I realy dont think it is all race issues, I have alot of grower friends that refuse to register, they dont like the idea of the state knowing their biz, I cant talk any of them to register!

 

I dont mind being registered, Ive regretted it a few times but have been happy at least 5 times because it protected me from prosecution!

 

Peace

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