Michigan Supreme Court “Pulls Plug” on Dispensary Access, Patients Left to Suffer

Michigan Supreme Court “Pulls Plug” on Dispensary Access, Patients Left to Suffer

By Steve Greene

Just locating and then finding a place to meet with people like Jennifer Powers, who are daring enough to speak in person and on the record, smacked of the old underground railroad. “It’s almost impossible to find a caregiver.”  Powers, who is a 51-year-old disabled Bay City, Michigan resident, uses a cane following knee replacement surgery.  She says all the caregivers she can find have no availability. Caregivers are swamped by high patient demand in light of recently settled law that effectively closes “dispensaries” in the state.  Powers is one of a chorus of medical cannabis patients stepping forward to ask for an answer to a new statewide lack of access. “Nobody else wants to take on the risk (of growing) and people can’t get what they need.  This use to be a safe access point and they closed it.”  Jennifer refers to the local association where she used to get her medical marijuana.  That associations owner is facing 24 felony charges.  And law enforcement, emboldened by the recent court decision, is contemplating another round of raids.

Nearly four years into the Michigan program, patients are stuck with a strictly limited way to get their medicine. Either grow it yourself or find a registered caregiver (themselves limited to five patients) to do it for you.  Anything else will get you arrested. 

Shocked MMJ Patients Search for Answers

The limits may sound workable, but the reality is all this requires specialized knowledge and space as well as expensive equipment, which puts it out of reach for most patients.  Former West Branch construction worker Warren Redd is bitterly sarcastic about it. “It helps if you’re not really sick or disabled.”  Redd lives in constant pain from a crushing accident and also says he can’t grow himself or find a caregiver.  “You’re going to end up pushing this back out on the street. People like me are either really sick or in unbearable pain.  I mean, we’re panicked.  What are we suppose to do?  I’m tired of it.”

Those affected by the law are having a tough time making sense of the irony of a society that sometimes wants us to treat animals better than ourselves. It is an unworkable system that encourages illegal behavior in the guise of offering protected, but unobtainable medicine.   

Michael Manns, a 33 year old man from Bay City who is an amputee and spina bidifa victim, says he tried growing but gave up because he was unable to yield anything medicinal.  “Without it, I end up in bed all day- too sick to do anything.”

Terry Marentette lives in a remote meager trailer in rural Gladwin. She says she doesn’t currently have a caregiver.  Marentette struggles with disabling effects and chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia.  She says her treatments make her ABLE to interact with her grandchildren and that quality of life is too important to her, so this decision will force her to break the law and get it from someone else. “They’ve left me with no choice.”  The 57 year old says using cannabis lets her stand on her own weight and move around safely without her walker.

Michigan’s Licensing And Regulatory Affairs records point to a problem linked to a practical reality that underlies the mathematics of supply.  As of the end of January 2013, there are 126,739  active patients, and just 26,404  registered caregivers. There are, by relative number, actually more than enough caregiver slots available given the number of registered patients, IF every caregiver filled every slot.   But that’s a big “if”.  In fact there are many instances where patients assigned their caregiver status to a person who is only growing for them. That wastes 4 slots that are never even offered for use.  Essentially for those patients lucky enough to find a reliable caregiver, it will still take upwards of 4 months or more before their plants are of any use.  So who does this person turn to now? This is exactly the problem that dispensaries solved: the mismatch between supply and demand.  And it’s achieved without directly growing any marijuana themselves.

Nashville Republican Mike Callton and multiple bipartisan co-sponsors have come to answer the issue with what was recently introduced  as HB 4271, a bill designed to let local cities make allowances for “provisioning centers” and, like the MMMA,  provide a limited immunity.  This bill gives that to patients who sell extra to or buy extra from them.

Novi Crohn’s sufferer Stephanie Annis said it most clear. “Every day since this decision, thousands of medical patients are needlessly suffering and their safety and health are at risk! It’s critical legislators act now to Pass House Bill 4271” to stop a new problem where medical patients are now unfairly suffering.  The bill has been referred to the House Judicial Committee.    

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