- Illustration by Lee DeVito.
The action was heavy in Lansing on the medical marijuana front last week — something good, something not so good, and something questionable.
First the good: The state Medical Marihuana Review Panel met last week and voted 6-2 in favor of adding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana certification in Michigan. Now it’s up to state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Steve Arwood to decide whether to allow it.
“It was a heated meeting,” says Dave Brogren, president of Cannabis Patients United, a nonprofit supporting the core principles of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA); Brogren has a nonmedical seat on the 11-member group.
Last year a PTSD petition passed by a 4-3 vote but didn’t get the requisite quorum (at least six of eight votes). A new petition this year squeezed by with the minimum allowable six votes. One notable change came from Michigan’s chief medical executive Dr. Matthew Davis. His vote flipped from a nay to a yea.
This doesn’t mean PTSD will now be listed on the registry. Arwood has the unilateral choice on whether to allow it or not. There’s a lot riding on this decision for patients and for activists who want to see if the mechanism for adding conditions will be respected by state administrators. Although provided for in the MMMA passed in 2008, the state didn’t even seat a panel for nearly four years. Then it was disbanded in 2013 because it didn’t meet stipulations on the makeup of the panel.
Since the MMMA was passed, not one qualifying condition has been added to the registry. At one point, a couple of years ago, it looked as though Parkinson’s disease would make it; since the board was dissolved, it seems to have fallen through the cracks. The re-formed board has not taken up the old business, nor have any new petitions been presented yet. The decision on this PTSD petition will send a strong message about the state’s intention to honor the provision for new qualifying conditions.
If Arwood adds PTSD to the registry, “It means that the process in place seems to be getting some traction and is working,” Brogren says. “We worked hard on this process, and there was a lot of disagreement over the last year and a half to work this out. It will be disheartening if the state doesn’t take this seriously.”
The not-so-good part is that the panel voted 4-3 in favor of adding insomnia to the list — short of the six votes required for Arwood’s attention. There seems to be little background support for the condition, and that means there will probably be no return to the subject next year as happened for PTSD. Also a petition to add bipolar disorder that never really had a chance was voted down.
Now we come to the questionable: SB 783, which curtails marijuana growing operations in rental units without the landlord’s permission, passed in the Senate by a 31-7 vote — well over the supermajority 75 percent margin necessary to directly change the MMMA. It now goes to the state house for consideration. This act was first introduced on Feb. 12, and is zipping through the legislature on greased skids compared to HB 4271, which was introduced more than a year ago and passed in the House. It’s still waiting for a Senate vote. HB 4271 would allow local municipalities to choose whether to have “provisioning centers” (dispensaries) within their borders. Word is it has simple majority support, which is all it needs, so it’s a matter of when it comes to the floor.
There are two notable parts to SB 783: One is that it would prohibit smoking or growing marijuana on a rental property if the landlord writes it into the lease. This seems to be a bit of legislative overkill because I think that a landlord could have that provision in a lease anyway. On the other hand it does look like patients could be denied the right to use their medication. Much of the medical marijuana community sees this as an infringement on the MMMA. It certainly restricts the choices available to medical marijuana patients who need to rent.
The second provision is where things get questionable: It prohibits smoking marijuana on private property open to the public, such as a parking lot. However it would seem like an overeager law enforcement officer could interpret this to mean smoking on your back porch is probable cause to enter your home. Under the present mindset of law enforcement when it comes to marijuana, I’m not a big fan of leaving things up to interpretation.
SANJAY GUPTA DOUBLES DOWN
He’s not hitting the bong, but CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta hosted a special program Tuesday night titled Weed 2: Cannabis Madness. Last summer he came out in support of medical marijuana in Weed. He preceded Weed 2 with a column on CNN.com. The article covers what he has found since his revelation from last year. Gupta wrote: “I am more convinced than ever that it is irresponsible to not provide the best care we can, care that often may involve marijuana. I am not backing down on medical marijuana; I am doubling down.”
Gupta revisited the young epileptic girl who got relief from seizures featured in Weed; he also looked at the cases of a man who uses cannabis for pain relief and a woman who treats her multiple sclerosis with it. Gupta covered a lot of ground that’s old hat to medical marijuana activists, but being the public figure and opinion influencer that he is, this is good stuff. He poses the question many of you have asked in writing: “How can the government deny the benefits of medical marijuana even as it holds a patent for those very same benefits?” That would be patent no. 6630507, granted in 2001 to the U.S. Health and Human Services titled “Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants.”
Yet just a couple of weeks ago National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins said, “We don’t know a lot about the things we wish we did,” regarding medical marijuana — although the NIH website contains thousands of papers on the subject. Some that contradict public statements Collins has made regarding marijuana.
But, to me, Gupta’s most compelling pronouncement was: “… [M]any doctors and scientists, worried about being ostracized for even discussing the potential of marijuana, called me confidentially to share their own stories of the drug and the benefit it has provided to their patients. I will honor my promise not to name them, but I hope this next documentary will enable a more open discussion and advance science in the process.”
Is there a silent force out there in the medical and scientific world supporting medical marijuana? I’ve heard from several patients who say that doctors observe the results of their self-treatment with cannabis and encourage them to “keep doing what you’re doing.” But when it comes to journalists like me, they don’t really want to talk. Health care institutions don’t like the controversy such attention can bring. That’s one of the next bridges to cross, getting doctors to openly talk about what they’re finding out about medical marijuana treatments. The truth is much stranger than reefer madness fictions.