Oakland County prides itself — and rightfully so, in many cases — on being a leader in the state on any number of issues, ranging from stalwart budgeting practices to its efforts to entice new businesses to set up shop within the 910 total square miles of its 60-plus communities. Now, the Republican-controlled county Board of Commissioners has an opportunity to blaze a new trail for local units of government now that it is expected to craft a new “firmer stance” on the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA), which was enacted into law in April 2009 following overwhelming voter support in November 2008.
Work is expected to begin later this month or in February involving a variety of stakeholders, including the county Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Department, as county commissioners look to pick up the ball that was dropped last year when officials halted work on formulating a board position — which would be merely an opinion, not a set of rules — on the MMMA, which has caused a significant amount of head-scratching among west Oakland County officials trying to grapple with what they contend is ambiguity in state law.
But let’s be frank. That’s bologna. In actuality, there is very little gray area in the law. Dispensaries, under the MMMA, are — believe it or not — no-no’s. They aren’t mentioned at all. They are a red herring for communities to adopt a NIMBY mentality vis-a-vis medical marijuana through a spate of moratoriums on medical marijuana-related activities, and we’ve effectively been told as much by local officials.
In fact, a unanimous ruling was handed down last August by the state Court of Appeals states the MMMA — which permits physician-approved use of marijuana by patients with debilitating medical conditions including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, and other conditions as approved by the state Department of Community Health — does not provide legal grounds for so-called dispensaries to facilitate patient-to-patient sales of medical marijuana.
According to state law, each certified medical marijuana caregiver is allowed raise 12 plants per certified patient and service up to five patients at a time in an enclosed and secure facility.
Each caregiver can carry 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana on them per patient and still comply with state law. That means a caregiver can potentially carry 12.5 ounces of marijuana at any given time.
The local moratoriums, which began cropping up following the MMMA’s enactment nearly three years ago, are continually being extended for months on-end, and we see no reason to believe that will stop. But the county board can hand down an opinion (albeit, a non-binding one) showing leadership and effectively stating that Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana use for people with debilitating illnesses and, by instituting and extending these moratoriums that are, for all intents and purposes, Rube Goldbergs attempting to ban medical marijuana use, communities in Oakland County are essentially preventing their residents from getting relief from the pain and suffering they are enduring due to those ailments.
Municipalities have used the argument that they need more time to study the issue — which is all well and good, but decent doctoral dissertations have been researched and written in less time than communities have taken on this. Either leaders in those communities are being less than truthful about the motives behind the moratoriums or, to be honest, whoever is studying the medical marijuana issue isn’t exactly the sharpest tack in the box.
If communities want to ban medical marijuana use outright — which is what we suspect most actually want without publicly acknowledging it on the record — go for it. But if they do, they should also go for their piggy banks because it would be a long, protracted court battle in which we suspect they would end up on the losing team.
So this is where the county board steps in. While not a silver bullet for once and for all setting the record straight on the MMMA, the Board of Commissioners could do everyone a favor by strongly and vehemently stating the facts via resolution regarding the initiative that received support from 63 percent of voters on Nov. 4, 2008. Like it or not, medical marijuana use is legal in Michigan. The electorate overwhelmingly thought it was appropriate three years ago and there is little-to-no gray area in the law — although we readily acknowledge that there are those who knowingly and willfully abuse it.
Stating as much won’t change the minds of the MMMA’s detractors in west Oakland County, but it would be a step in the right direction to ensuring that the law’s integrity and intent is upheld for those who need it most — the sick and dying.