November 26, 2021

The Michigan Medical Marijuana Act: The First 24-Months

This article chronicles the implementation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, passed via referendum in the 2008 general election. As expected, once applied to our human tapestry, the MMA has been subjected to some already-classic judicial interpretations, with a strong promise of more to come.

The Michigan Legislature passed the MMA on December 4, 2008, making Michigan the 13th state to allow the cultivation and possession of marijuana for medical purposes. The Act cited a series of findings related to the beneficial uses of marijuana in treating nausea, pain and other effects from a variety of debilitating medical conditions. The Act also notes that according to the FBI, 99% of all marijuana possession arrests nationwide are done pursuant to state, rather than federal law. It is important to note that possession of the drug remains illegal under federal law.

The MMA defines a “debilitating medical condition” as cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C, and other diseases along with other chronic afflictions which cause pain and nausea. A “primary caregiver” is defined as, “a person who is at least 21 years old and who has agreed to assist with a patient’s medical use of marijuana and who has never been convicted of a felony involving illegal drugs.” A “qualifying patient” is “a person who has been diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition.”

The basic mechanics of the Act provide that qualifying patients and primary care providers (marijuana growers) must possess a “registry identification card”, issued by the Department of Community Health. Tens of thousands of applications have been processed; many thousands remain pending with more filed every week; the demand for certification, for marijuana, is seemingly insatiable here in Michigan.

The high demand is understandable. Cardholders are not subject to arrest or prosecution for marijuana possession/distribution provided the patient keeps less than 2.5 ounces of smokeable pot. Care providers are allowed to maintain up to 12 plants for each qualified patient; stems, seeds and unusable roots do not count toward the plant limitation.

Physicians also have immunity from prosecution relative to their certification of the patient’s need for the drug, so long as they conduct an assessment of the patient’s medical history. A legitimate physician-patient relationship is required.

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Supreme Court decided the case of Conant vs Walters in 2003, physicians have been able to recommend a patient’s use of marijuana (but cannot prescribe pot by placing the recommendation on a prescription form). Doctors can also make notes regarding their recommendations in the patient’s chart and can testify on behalf of a patient’s medical use of marijuana in a court of law. The Supreme Court’s Conant decision paved the way for passage of the MMA.

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