Op-ed: Senate should move quickly on lifesaving marijuana bills

By Charmie Gholson

In December, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on three medical marijuana-related bills.

HB 4271 allows local control and regulation of medical marijuana provisioning centers; HB 5104 legalizes the medical use of non-smoked forms of medical marijuana such as concentrated oils, liquids, capsules and in food; and SB 660 created a new medical marijuana registry, providing for “pharmaceutical-grade cannabis” and which is contingent upon federal rescheduling of marijuana from a completely banned substance to being allowed with a prescription.

Although Gov. Rick Snyder signed SB 660 into law, it does nothing to quickly provide Michigan patients with safe access to medicine. What it does do is force them to wait until the federal government reschedules marijuana from Schedule 1 (completely prohibited) status. Even though President Obama has raised eyebrows with recent statements that marijuana is safer than alcohol, there is no indication from his administration that rescheduling is a priority.

The other two bills passed with overwhelming support in the House from both sides of the aisle. (A January story in City Pulse details how House Republicans gathered to support the bills.) They were then assigned to the Senate Government Operations Committee, chaired by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. While these bills wait in committee, the medicine needed by patients who use non-smokeable forms of medical marijuana, including pediatric patients, is illegal in Michigan. Still. Five years after we passed the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, those who need our protection the most are still at risk.

A Feb. 3 Detroit Free Press feature quotes Grand Ledge Republican Sen. Rick Jones on the bills. “Lansing had 38 licensed dispensaries. They were in stores, next to schools and next to churches that had rehab programs. I do not favor the wild, wild west of dispensaries coming back.”

Not only does HB 4271 solve the problem of unregulated provisioning centers (yes, by regulating them), but also a Michigan State Police representative testified in the Judiciary Committee hearing that it would bring clarity to the Medical Marihuana Act, which is huge. Jones said on Tuesday, “I don’t have a problem at all” with the edibles bill, but he is more hesitant about dispensaries. “I’m willing to look at the issue. I’m not ready to sign on yet.”

Robin Schneider, legislative liaison for the National Patients Rights Association, supports both bills.

“Medical marijuana patients have been attacked from every direction,” she said. “They shut down safe access points. They raid their caregivers and even raid patients growing their own medicine. Then they try to take their children. We didn’t vote for escalated police encounters against sick people, but that is exactly what is happening.”

On the smoking alternative bill, Rebecca Brown testified at the Judiciary hearings in December. Brown is the founder of Pediatric Cannabis Therapy, a support group for parents of very ill children who respond to cannabis therapy. Her son Cooper experienced life-threatening seizures “day and night,” due to Dravet syndrome. Then Brown found that concentrated cannabis oil calmed the seizures, something the prescribed pharmaceutical drugs weren’t able to achieve.

She and other parents of very ill children approached Schneider’s organization after the Michigan Court of Appeals outlawed all forms of medical marijuana except plant material.

“In the Dravet community alone we lost five kids in December. Our kids need this medicine. What good would it do to put parents of sick kids in jail? Just give us the law so we have this protection.

“We’re the people the law was written for. Why are they making this so difficult? As parents of sick kids, we don’t have the energy at the end of the day to grow our own medicine. Sick kids require a lot of time, attention and money. Why is it so difficult to understand that sick kids need medicine?” Charmie Gholson is a co-founder of The American Rights Conference.