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Pharmacies could fill medical marijuana prescriptions if Michigan bill passes, but critics say it’s a corporate profit-raid on the fledgling industry.
By Katie Rucke | November 12, 2013
In this May 14, 2013, Rosy Solis, left, and Nicole Denis help fill medical marijuana prescriptions at the Venice Beach Care Center medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, file)Michigan may not have been the first state to legalize marijuana for either medical or recreational use, but the state is breaking ground by introducing legislation that would expand its own medical marijuana program by allowing medical marijuana sales at pharmacies.If the legislation passes, it would open the doors for corporate interests such as Big Pharma to profit off of the medical marijuana industry, and would change how the federal government not only recognizes marijuana, but how it enforces U.S. drug policy.Introduced by state Sen. Roger Kahn, a Republican representing Saginaw Township, the legislation, Senate Bill 660 would allow medical marijuana patients to pick up their medicine from a pharmacy, instead of having a caregiver cultivate plants for them. But the catch is that marijuana must become recognized as a Schedule II drug federally first.Currently, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, along with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, among others, meaning that the federal government does not recognize a medical purpose of the drug at any time. Reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II drug, along with cocaine, Adderall, Ritalin and morphine, would mean that the government recognizes that the substance has medicinal purposes.Kahn, a cardiologist, said he believes medical marijuana “should be held to the standard of medical safety, dosage predictability,” but says that the state’s current law, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, does neither of those things, “Yet it uses the word ‘medical predominantly or prominently in its claims.”Michigan currently has about 129,000 medical marijuana patients. Current law allows patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of “usable” marijuana and 12 plants. If individuals are unable to grow their own marijuana, they can have a caregiver do it for them, but caregivers can only provide marijuana for up to five patients.Due to the limited options where a medical-marijuana patient can obtain their medicine, Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) proposed a piece of legislation earlier this year that would have created dispensaries throughout the state, since “not everyone can grow marijuana or find caregivers,” but his legislation was rejected.Under Kahn’s proposed medical marijuana extension law, doctors would be able to prescribe two ounces of marijuana to patients only if they had no drug-offense convictions, returned their marijuana ID card that was issued before the new law was implemented, and be at least 18 years old. Suppliers and participating pharmacies would also be inspected annually to ensure they are following the law.On his website, Kahn said the proposed legislation would not take anything away from the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act — the piece of legislation that “honors the will of the people — but would give them “a pure and pharmaceutical-grade alternative to home-grown marijuana — one that accurately fits the name ‘medical.’”“As a physician, it worries me that the constitutional provision contains no patient protections standards and in particular no standards that will protect immune-suppressed patients from molds, pesticides, metals or other contaminants commonly present in marijuana,” he wrote. “For the HIV community, this should be a serious concern. Marijuana, considered a medicine if the federal government takes action, should be available in medically sound preparations to our people, just as prescription drugs are now.“Under this measure, facilities that produced medical marijuana would have to comply with requirements and similar to the standards with which current pharmaceutical manufacturers comply. The product would also be tested for potency which will help doctors with prescribing and dosing, and the product would be distributed through pharmacies only.“It is your constitutional right to be able to have access to medical marijuana. All my legislation does is offer those who are worried about contaminants an option.”Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a Republican representing Monroe, said he supports the legislation because Michigan needs a more “reasonable and responsible” way to regulate medical marijuana so it doesn’t end up in the possession of teenagers.“My concern isn’t about an elderly person or a person that’s got legitimate problems trying to gain some relief from that pain,” he said. “For me, it’s about the illegitimate use and the potential for not only a bad product that’s not controlled but (it) also getting into the hands of people that are underage and aren’t at the point in their lives where they should even be considering such a thing.” Corporate interests put ahead of patient’s rightsNot everyone has enthusiasm for Kahn’s legislation, including the Michigan chapter of the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.Speaking with the Associated Press, Rick Thompson, spokesman for the ASA’s Michigan chapter, said the group fears that passage of legislation such as Senate Bill 660 may force medical marijuana patients in the future to buy their medicine and not grow it themselves.“If you’re able to grow in your basement there’s no reason to go to Walmart,” Thompson said. “You have to eliminate home-based competition in order to get a large gross to be financially solvent….That’s not what we voted for in 2008.”Charmie Gholson, founder of Michigan Moms United, which fights for legal protections for medical marijuana users, agreed, saying “We need to grow our own medicine.” And adding, “I’m not sure why a Canadian corporation can come in and try to buy our Legislature.”Other critics of the bill point to recent efforts to “corporatize” marijuana and point out that Prairie Plant Systems Inc., which has been the sole medical marijuana supplier in Canada for the past 13 years, has lobbied in favor of the legislation, with the help of Chuck Perricone, former Speaker of the House, who now represents Prairie Plant Systems.According to local news reports, Prairie Plant Systems’ Michigan-based subsidiary SubTerra, which does plant research and manufacturing, has expressed interest in growing marijuana in a former Upper Peninsula copper mine.In response to allegations that companies were seeking to profit from pot, Perricone said that despite protests from some legalization groups, this bill would actually give medical marijuana users more options when it comes to marijuana.“This is nothing more than an option or a choice. This product was marketed to the public as medical; let’s make it medical,” he said. “The market for this is virtually untapped. The potential for the product is tremendous.”Perricone added that although the legislation’s implementation is dependent on the federal government reclassifying marijuana, he said the chances of that happening in the coming years are likely since the government announced earlier this year it won’t prosecute in states that have approved medical or recreational marijuana.But Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, pointed out that the Justice Department’s new stance on marijuana enforcement was riddled with Catch-22s.While the DOJ said it did not plan to sue the two states that legalized recreational marijuana “at this time,” it said nothing about states that had legalized medical marijuana and reserved the right to sue Washington and Colorado at a later date.
Give a patient meds & he will medicate for a day !
Teach a patient to grow & he will medicate for life !™®