Michigan medical marijuana rule changes hit speed bump; Senate still mulling dispensaries, edibles

LANSING, MI — A proposal to overhaul Michigan medical marijuana rules hit a speed bump Wednesday in Lansing, with the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules balking at plans to require online registration for new and renewing patients.

Sen. John Pappageorge, chair of the committee, said requiring online registration would cause problems for rural or poor residents without internet access who can currently register using a paper form.

He criticized the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which proposed the rule change, for focusing on its own efficiency rather than what was best for its customers.

“If the person can’t file the darn thing unless they go out and buy a computer, why are you saying to them they can’t register?” said Pappageorge, R-Troy.

Desmond Mitchell, a policy analyst for LARA, responded by telling the committee that online registration would be “great” for the public because most denials are due to customer error when filing out paper forms.

“If it’s done online, it will be impossible to deny for those reasons,” he said.

Online registration is just one component of a larger rules change proposed by LARA. The department also wants to establish a flat $60 two-year registration fee — down from $100 for most patients — and change the way residents can petition the state to add new medical conditions to the law.

Pappageorge said there would not be enough votes on the joint committee to approve the proposal unless LARA softens the online registration requirement, perhaps by allowing paper registration when Internet access is not feasible.

The panel has 60 days to consider the rules, and with the end of the year in sight, Pappageorge urged LARA to bring back a modified proposal in short order. If the committee does not approve the administrative rules, lawmakers could block implementation through separate legislation, if they choose.

State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, expressed concern with a proposed rule that would require petitioners to submit a peer-reviewed study when asking the Medical Marijuana Review Panel to consider adding a new condition to the law.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, McMillin noted, questioning whether such studies can be conducted in the United States. A LARA representative said some universities are studying the drug and noted that research from other countries would be permissible.

Josie Scoggins, a medical marijuana patient from Lansing, criticized the proposed fee structure. While reducing the cost from $100 to $60 for most patients would be a “great thing,” she noted that the department would also eliminate a $25 reduced fee for low-income residents on Medicaid or supplementary Social Security.

LARA says 88 percent of existing patients would see reduced fees under the proposal, and a uniform cost would speed up the registration process so that the department can distribute medical marijuana cards more quickly.

Separately, the Michigan Senate continues to consider legislation that would allow for the return of regulated marijuana dispensaries and non-smokable forms of the drug, including edibles and topical creams.

Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, had hoped to move the House-approved bills by the end of September, but said Wednesday that he continues to work with law enforcement officials who have expressed concerns with the legislation.

“It’s kind of a tricky balance there. What we want to do is put the bad players out. We want to get legislation that eliminates or reduces their activity significantly,” Richardville told reporters on Wednesday.

“At the same time, there are people out there that require, that need, that are being helped by legitimate marijuana health care products. We don’t want to hurt those people while we’re stopping the bad players.”

A February ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court empowered county prosecutors to shut down dispensaries as a “public nuisance,” but the House legislation includes several new rules designed to tighten oversight.

The Michigan Court of Appeals, meanwhile, ruled in July that “pot brownies” are not a usable form of marijuana under the medical law, leaving other non-smokable forms of the drug in a state of legal limbo.

Richardville said the Senate could consider both bills when it meets on October 22, “if not, it will be right after the election.”

Jonathan Oosting is a Capitol reporter for MLive Media Group. Email him, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

By Jonathan Oosting | joosting@mlive.com

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on October 01, 2014 at 2:09 PM, updated October 01, 2014 at 2:10 PM

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