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Feature: Michigan Medical Marijuana Law in Effect

As of last Saturday, legal medical marijuana has arrived in the Midwest. On that day, Michigan's medical marijuana went into effect as the state Department of Community Health began accepting applications from patients to register for the program. By day's end Saturday, the department had received 85 applications, 16 more arrived in the mail Monday, and more have been dribbling in since then.
Jon Dunbar
No one is yet carrying a state-issued registration card, but the first ones should arrive in mailboxes within a couple of weeks. The department can take up to 15 days to review an application. Once it is approved, it will be sent out within five days.

"We should be issuing the cards probably by the end of April," said James McCurtis, a spokesman for the department, which will oversee the program.

Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana initiative last fall, but it did not go into effect until last Saturday to allow the department time to craft its rules and regulations. Under the law, patients can grow up to a dozen plants. Caregivers can grow for up to five patients, as well as themselves. Patients must have a doctor's recommendation and suffer from a specified list of diseases, symptoms, or conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.

As last weekend's opening day rush of applications suggests, there is pent up demand for medical marijuana in Michigan. Advocates estimate that 50,000 people may qualify under the state law. The Chronicle spoke with two of them this week.

Lynn Allen of Williamston suffers from AIDS and hepatitis C, contracted from a blood transfusion. He has been on disability since 1996, the last time he was able to work. Marijuana works for him, he said.

"I've been through periods where I lost a lot of weight, and I need medical marijuana primarily to develop my appetite," he said. "It causes the munchies."

Allen had experimented with weed back in his college days in the 1970s, but had left it behind long ago. "It's been 30 years since I tried it in college, but I decided to try it again, and it seems to work reasonably well, so I was quite happy when the vote passed. I plan to grow my own. I don't have a real good history with growing things, but this will be a fun project."

Allen hasn't sent in his application yet, but will soon, he said. "I have an appointment with my doctor to get the documentation signed, then I will submit it."

Another Michigander preparing to take advantage of the new law is 19-year-old Jon Dunbar of Kalamazoo. Dunbar suffers chronic pain from degenerative spinal problems and neuropathy and walks with the assistance of a cane.

"It started with a little bit of back pain and has gotten progressively worse for the past two years," Dunbar explained. "I am now disabled. This has taken my life from me. About a year ago, I started getting symptoms in my leg. When the nerves die, you lose function and feeling. I can't drive, I can't walk normally, I will never be able to play sports again. I have to do physical therapy because the nerves are constantly dying and I have to learn to adjust to that," he explained.

"My doctor says there is no cure and I will be on some form of pain management for the rest of my life. I've been on almost every opiate you can think of -- fentanyl, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone -- but that stuff is horribly addictive. It's bad enough having to watch my nerves die; I don't want to be some kind of addict, too."

[Ed: The likelihood of a pain patient getting addicted to opiates is actually low if the prescribing is handled properly, research has found, but that's another issue. Clearly patients who prefer not to use powerful opiates have legitimate reasons and should not be forced to do so (just as patients who need or prefer opiates for pain control should not be prevented from obtaining them).]
Michigan medical marijuana advocates at the State House
It wasn't just opiates. "This is as tough a challenge for me as you can imagine," Dunbar said. "My mom had pictures of me playing sports on the wall. It was a constant reminder of all the things I can never do again. It was very depressing, and I was on Xanax, Valium, Clonazapam. But I realized no matter how mad or sad I got, it wasn't going to change."

Medical marijuana helps him lay off the heavy meds, he said. "It helps me cut back on my need for opiates for relief, and being able to cut back even a little is beneficial for me."

Dunbar tried marijuana for pain relief several months ago, but is waiting to get legal medicine. "After I tried it, I would have switched right away if it were legal. Maybe I could cut down on the 10 10-milligram Percocets I'm taking every day right now."
The former athlete and musician is preparing his application this week. "Since I can't drive, I have to catch rides to go to the doctor and take in my application, but I'm working on that right now. I should be an officially registered patient within three weeks," Dunbar said.

Patient advocates are keeping a watchful eye on the state and law enforcement, but so far, so good, said Greg Francisco, head of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association (MMMA), the leading patient group in the state, which took a busload of patients and supporters to Lansing Saturday and signed up 50 people. "We're relatively happy with the way the state has responded," he said. "It would have been nice if they had been more collaborative with us, but they didn't really collaborate with any of the stakeholders, not patients, not law enforcement, not pharmacies, not doctors. Still, I think we have a workable program here."

A handful of patients have run into problems with police since the law passed in November, but the courts have been inclined to throw out those cases, Francisco said. In one case in the Detroit suburb of Madison Heights, police raided a couple growing 21 plants, but now the city finds itself in the odd position of ensuring that the plants stay alive. While there are some grey areas in the law, things will sort themselves out, he predicted.

"Most departments are saying they will follow the law, but the state has not been good at communicating just how the program works or what are the limits and liberties," said Francisco. "We're dedicated to protecting the liberties of patients and encouraging people to stay within the limits. We're trying to create an ethic of respect for the law on all sides."

MMMA has been busy traversing the state and working with patients, said Francisco. "We've been starting compassion clubs. These are not marijuana hook-ups, these are patient support groups. They help hook patients up with doctors and things like that. Now, people may make relationships at the compassion clubs, but if they want to talk about obtaining clones and medicine, that's going to happen outside the club. That's a secondary function for these clubs; they're not dispensaries, but pure patient support groups."

While the law allows patients to grow up to 12 plants and provides for caregivers who can grow the allotted maximum for up to five patients, plus themselves, it does not mention co-ops or dispensaries. That means there is going to be some pushing of boundaries, said Francisco.

"There are lots and lots of different models being talked about," he said. "There are entrepreneurs pushing the envelope, and we encourage that. We encourage people to make good choices and go for it. We would hope that we would end up with not for profit, community-based operations, but we're really about options and pushing the envelope."

And so the tendrils of the medical marijuana movement burrow into the fertile soil of Michigan. Soon, it may not be the only Midwest medical marijuana state. Legislative efforts are well under way in Minnesota and Illinois. Perhaps by the time the lawmakers go home in those two states, they will be ready to join Michigan as part of the third front (after the West Coast and the Northeast) in the expansion of therapeutic cannabis.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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DOT Testing

When are we going to see changes in the DOT Testing that reflects fairness. It is simply not fair to lose a career over the intolerably low cutoff for marihuana 50ng/15ng.

There must be a way to test for cannabis that reflects use within the last few hours such as alcohol.

The current testing program is criminal in itself.

Mex Ambassador Calls for "Serious" Pot Legalization Discussion

Mexican Ambassador Calls for "Serious" Pot Legalization Discussion
In response to a direct question by Bob Schieffer on CBS Face The Nation on April 12, 2009 about legalization of marijuana the Mexican ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, stated that there needs to be a "serious discussion" about legalization of marijuana.

"This is a debate that needs to be taken seriously."

And your opinion about prescribing METHADONE for pain is?

[Ed: The likelihood of a pain patient getting addicted to opiates is actually low if the prescribing is handled properly, research has found, but that's another issue. Clearly patients who prefer not to use powerful opiates have legitimate reasons and should not be forced to do so (just as patients who need or prefer opiates for pain control should not be prevented from obtaining them).]

That's right, the same phramaceutical companies that persuaded you to post that ridiculous disclaimer are the ones that think methadone is appropriate to prescribe for pain.

And think that forcing people at the point of a gun to swallow their poison is the American Way.

righteous indignation?

People that get relief from methadone and only have to take it twice day ( because of its long half life) to get that relief, are very thankful to have it. (heck of a lot cheaper than Oxycontin or long acting morphine!) But, since the DEA and people like you know more than doctors, lets just tell everybody to "learn to live with your pain"! Some people choose ending their lives, over living with hell 24/7 because of untreated unremitting pain. It is a sad state of affairs in a country with such cutting edge medical care! No one should have to suffer in pain! And, any doctor who ignores his patient's pain is lower than a snakes belly in a wagon rut!

What was stated about the opiates is scientific fact, proven in many studies. Those studies have shown that addiction rates, in REAL chronic pain patients, are from .008%-1%. So are we to not treat 99% of the pain patients, who will never get into trouble, on some unscientific thinking that you base your statements on? Or, should we be good doctors and base it on scientific reports! People like you deserve the half-assed medical care you try to force on others! I guess not everyone feels it should be between a patient and his/her doctor, as it rightly should be. It should never be a committee decision! It should be no one else's concern.

All medication has risks. People die from complications of Tylenol and Aspirin, every year, to the tune of 20,000, or more, a year. That is four time the deaths, accidental or intentional, on all of the illegal drugs combined. And, Methadone, as risky as it can be with abusers, is, essentially, a safe medication. If I had intractable pain, the least of my worries would be succumbing to the medication. There are things worse than death, you know! Most cancer patients fear dieing in unrelieved pain, as their highest concern! You don't help their situation spouting off your propaganda. But, cannabis should be readily available for everyone that needs it for pain relief, no questions asked! Especially, in the, presently muddled, treatment atmosphere we, pain patients, have to endure.

Right on brother

mlang52 has got it right on, I believe that what ever it takes to get rid of pain should be explored! As a severe pain sufferer I know how it feels to have break through pain, if you have never had it you don't know what you are talking about. To say anything about what a person should be taking and not taking is only between a doctor and a patient and nobody else. Until we get that we will always have these now it all types spouting off at the mouth. STOP Marijuana Prohibition Now!!!!!

medical marijuana

Cannabis has been used for about 4,000 years for medical purposes. In Taiwan about 10,000 years ago the people of that country used marijuana for fiber. It’s important to mention that it’s not the social threat authorities believe it to be. On . you can find out more about the wide range of medical applications of pot in treating diseases such as convulsions, asthma, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, schizophrenia.

chronic pain

i am looking for a dr. in mi to help with med. marijuana,[email protected]

find DR in MI

503-281-5100 is the phone number to call. I did abd dollowed their EASY instructions and am all good to go. Good Luck to you!

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