The Cannabis Course Michigan’s new direction for cannabis is hurting patients

Much wailing is occurring in the Michigan medical cannabis community over the threats that any collective open after December 15, 2017 will have its continual operation considered an “impediment” to its ability to obtain a license under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Facilities licensing act. Dispensaries will have to make the best decision they can to operate as legally as possible during this transition.

“Certainly, closing will cause hardship on the businesses, which still will need to pay mortgage or rent costs and all necessary utilities and maintenance just to preserve their property values.”

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) is expected to impose emergency rules sometime this month. This is convenient for office holders in municipalities holding elections this year, in that the office holders have pretty much uniformly declined yet to opt in to allowing licensed facilities, with the justification that they are waiting for the rules to be provided. Not waiting for rules may require city, township and village boards to re-draft any opt-in provisions to maintain consistency with state law and rules.

Certainly, closing will cause hardship on the businesses, which still will need to pay mortgage or rent costs, and all necessary utilities and maintenance just to preserve their property values. That is not fair or right, but it’s just business in an unsettled and immature market. There is high gain but high risk, too. Transfers other than from a caregiver to one of their licensed patients remains illegal until licensed collectives are open and operating with medical cannabis and medical cannabis products for sale. That is unlikely to occur before late March or early April of 2018. So, we know where that leaves a current collective in the dark grey area of law.

Consider, however, the patients and how they will be affected. Donald Bailey, one of the five members of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Board, said that the date beyond which staying open will be considered an impediment to a collective is far enough away so that patients now have time to seek and engage a caregiver to supply medicine which the patient has been obtaining from a collective. Bailey apparently is impressed with the ability of activists to mobilize to attend the licensing board hearings (the first hearing was overflowing, and later hearings were moved to larger locations and also streamed live over the internet). Bailey may be correct that cannabis activists sometimes are well able to organize on short notice to attend important events. He also shared that he thinks that because activists can be such great organizers, that those same activists can use their skills to connect patients with caregivers, thus obviating the need for dispensaries.

This thinking is terribly wrong, and it may have dangerous implications for the most seriously ill patients. First, those most seriously ill generally have the least amount of funds and physical ability to attend meetings and use social media. Only those who are strong enough and able to be mobile have attended the meetings. The most seriously ill patients are neither making public appearances, nor spending much time online.

People regularly are reaching out for information, especially about obtaining what traditionally has been called “Rick Simpson Oil,” named after Rick Simpson, who developed a concentrated cannabis oil ingested by patients suffering from various cancers and other life-threatening ailments. The cannabis community appreciates that in less than a year (if licensed commercial cultivation only can begin in April, then product should not be expected in dispensaries until at least July 2018) licensed provisioning centers should be selling products tested for potency and purity, and labeled with those testing results. That will be great. In the meantime, people certainly will die who will be unable to access medical cannabis products they currently are using to kill their cancers and heal them in other ways.

And so, while proposals for legislative fixes are rolling around Lansing, there still is no certainty. One crazy aspect of this mess is that the “impediment” standard is just something floated as a possibility by LARA, with the public needing to wait until sometime in November (likely after the local elections) to find out what the emergency rules will say. But someone who currently is a patient obtaining well-made concentrates from a collective should be concerned that the collective may opt to shut down if and when emergency rules will cause them to have licensing problems if they do not close.

Hopefully LARA will back off its current push to close places where patients are obtaining safe access to needed medicine. If not, then we are risking the health of our most vulnerable patients.

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