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Editorial: Tolerance for medical pot rules

August 8, 2010

Medical marijuana neon sign at a dispensary on...
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 Medical marijuana laws. Our view:A slippery slope

 August 8, 2010

Traverse City, like probably most Michigan cities, appears to be behind the curve in terms of setting local rules and regulations for the cultivation and use of medical marijuana.

Before the city commission approves proposed new rules, officials need to do some clear thinking about the possible long-term repercussions of those rules — or the lack of rules — proposed by a planning commission committee.

The bedrock problem is that this is brand-new territory as far as deciding what laws, if any, a municipality needs to control medical marijuana use or if controls even are appropriate. So far, advocates have said the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects the right to confidentiality of patients and their caregivers, and any effort to license or even identify those people could be considered a violation of the law.

Cities also still are grappling with appropriate zoning for the various aspects of the Act — patients growing up to 12 plants on their own, caregivers being allowed to grow as many as 72 plants, and operating a “collective” where medical marijuana can change hands among those with medical certification — but, presumably, all without any official oversight.

Predictably, medical marijuana activists are, frankly, well ahead of officialdom, even though the law was approved by voters almost two years ago. Lawsuits already have been filed elsewhere in Michigan over new rules and regulations.

For cities that want to regulate marijuana use beyond those certified to use medical marijuana, this is all a slippery slope. If the very act of trying to ascertain if someone actually is certified can be a HIPAA violation, how is a municipality supposed to enforce state and federal laws against possession and use of pot?

Critics can imagine local collectives turning into marijuana trading posts where people with and without certification come to buy. For those without certification, what’s the worst thing that can happen? And do we really want to place those running collectives in the role of policeman?

Wouldn’t the very act of trying to verify someone’s certification to see if they qualify be a HIPAA violation? If it’s a violation for the police to ask, wouldn’t it be the same for caregivers or those who run collectives?

And how does this compare with laws that require those who sell alcohol to check IDs to ensure the patron is 21 or older? Those who drink alcohol are not protected by HIPAA, of course.

Longtime neighborhood activist Adrienne Rossi, who served on a citizen planning commission committee to consider zoning rules, suggested in a Record-Eagle op-ed that in order to protect the integrity of single-family neighborhoods, the city should treat cultivation as a home occupation, amend its existing home occupations ordinance, and monitor and institute regular police surveillance of identified medical marijuana grow sites. She recommended allowing cultivation in mixed-use and commercial districts.

Advocate Adam Devaney, however, pointed out in his own Record-Eagle op-ed that “even the state of Michigan, which is bringing in large amounts of money through application fees, has steadfastly refused to entertain the idea of conducting any type of inspections.”

Devaney, also a member of the citizen committee, said he concentrated on two goals — to “protect the confidentiality of patients and their caregivers; and … limit the potential liability to the City of Traverse City …”

The city, however, also must have other concerns, such as how to enforce state and federal marijuana laws outside the patient/caregiver situation and how to zone what appear, in the case of caregivers anyway, to be retail or commercial activities.

A major reason for concern is the growing disconnect between the number of potential patients — people udergoing chemotherapy or suffering from a limited list of ailments — and the ever-expanding number of people who apparently want to get into the caregiver/collective business.

Ads are popping up all over for certification programs and there are already plans afoot to create collectives here.

The act, overwhelmingly approved by voters two years ago, simply doesn’t address that issue.

At its core, this is a good law. People deserve access to effective treatment for a disease they didn’t ask for. Applying the law, however, is proving to be a more difficult decision.

See original posting here:

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