It's been about a month now since Michigan's new medical marijuana law took full effect-- on April 5th.
As you might know, Michigan is the 13th state to legalize marijuana for those with a serious illness or chronic pain.
Tonight, Sarah Platt continues her special report on Michigan's new law.
The first of the state-issued ID cards for medical marijuana are now being mailed out to Michigan patients.
While advocates and medical marijuana patients are happy to have the new law behind them, others are afraid the law has too many loopholes and people who don't have legitimate medical issues will take advantage of the system. Some members of the law enforcement community are also skeptical.
Just one month into Michigan's new medical marijuana statute, Berrien County Prosecutor Art Cotter has some concerns.
“This law has opened up doors they could drive a truck through. From law enforcements perspective, I can tell you it's going to be very difficult to rein it in now,” says Cotter.
While Cotter says he has the utmost sympathy for suffering patients, he thinks the law is too vague and will be hard to keep it limited to sick patients.
“Anybody virtually can get this. And I think, it's my opinion that the purpose of this act is to legalize marijuana,” explains Cotter.
If a patient wants to take medical marijuana, they must get a doctor's recommendation and a registration ID card from the state. But the law doesn't instruct patients on how or where they can get marijuana-- only that they can grow it themselves or appoint a caregiver to do so. But in any case, they must have a permit.
Some in law enforcement fear the growth of marijuana in neighborhoods could be hard to enforce.
“A caregiver can have a significant amount of marijuana and if you had more than one caregiver at the same location, you can imagine the amount of marijuana in one given location at any one time,” says Bob Landgraf Jr., city attorney for Niles.
Landgraf says the police asked him to draw up an ordinance that would create more specific rules for where and how much marijuana can be grown.
Niles is one of a few cities in Michigan trying to nip any potential problems in the bud.
“I think it's very important to get out ahead of it, to try to establish some regulations so people know what they can and can't do, before they start some type of activity,” says Landgraf.
The proposed Niles ordinance would prohibit outdoor growth of marijuana by licensed patients and caregivers.
It would have to be grown in a locked building (with a roof and walls)-- as opposed to state law which only requires a locked, fenced in area.
The ordinance would also allow no more than one caregiver to grow at a location.
Growers also wouldn't be able to conduct their activity within a thousand feet of a school zone.
Finally, growers would have to obtain a special use permit in a designated zone (similar to how adult entertainment venues are zoned).
Meanwhile, other city leaders in Michigan have different views on handling the new law. Benton Harbor Commissioner Juanita Henry says she'd support the idea of marijuana cooperatives in her community-- where patients could have a safe and legal place to buy the plant.
“I think if we could set up a way to tax it, as well as a way to control it… I think it would work, especially on a small/local level like Benton Harbor,” explains Henry.
“We would like to see a not for profit cooperative distribution system. We would hope that we do not see dispensaries or so-called pot shops, which are for-profit businesses. We'd much prefer to see community-based, grassroots based, not for profit, where small groups within communities come together and pull their resources,” says Greg Francisco, Executive Director for Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Association.
As for Prosecutor Cotter, he says he'll do his best to enforce the law that 63% of Michigan voters supported.
“The people who support this act have made it none too clear that they intend to fight for the absolute maximum with respect to the limits that this law sets down. And they're well-funded, they're well-organized and they're going to fight,” says Cotter.
Despite the controversy surrounding medical marijuana, only time will tell how the issue plays out in the Wolverine State.
“The citizens of Michigan were very clear about it to a significant percentage, that it should be available to people who need it. It's hard to argue that when you have so many of your fellow citizens agree that this is the case,” says State Representative John Proos, R-St. Joseph. “So now that it is, just making sure we have the right policies and procedures in place, so that there's safety in the process and there isn't abuse of medicinal marijuana for those who really do need it.”
The Niles medical marijuana ordinance could pass as early as next week, on May 11th.
Meantime, Newscenter 16 contacted the Michigan Society of Hematology and Oncology to get their stance on the issue of medical marijuana. They declined to make a formal statement, but think there are other alternatives to marijuana. They're going to wait and see how this new law plays out.
Officials with the Michigan Ophthalmological Society also say they are not taking a professional stance on medical marijuana right now.
Officials say smoking marijuana is the most efficient way for patients to ingest the dose. But there are alternatives-- like vaporization, putting marijuana in food or drink, and making an essential oil out of it. Officials say medical marijuana can even be made into suppositories.
For Part 1 of this story, click on the link below.