Medicinal marijuana users look for compassionPublished 10:41am Wednesday, December 23, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
When it passed in November 2008, there was no way to predict just how the process of assessing and approving or denying patients for the program would go. There was also no way of knowing just how many Michigan residents would want to apply for the program, which makes it legal for those eligible to grow and use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
One year after it became a legal way for those suffering from illness and conditions to self-medicate, the situation is still with a few wrinkles.
“I find a lot of the resistance that comes with medical marijuana comes from ignorance and lack of understanding,” Geoff Hurst, president of the Southwest Michigan Compassion Club (SWMCC), said Monday.
The SWMCC is a local chapter of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association. Its purpose is not only to serve as a means of support and advocacy for those participants in the program, but also a resource for information and education.
Hurst said opponents of the law are just as welcome to any of the club’s meetings in order to learn more about the benefits of marijuana as medication or to learn more about the people who support the program.
The club recently announced its next meeting, Jan. 11 at the American Legion Post 51 in Buchanan from 7 to 9 p.m. Hurst said the club plans to hold its meetings at the Legion for the foreseeable future.
Since it was passed in November 2008, the legalization of medical marijuana in Michigan has been an ongoing process.
Applicants who are approved for the program receive cards that officially recognize them as permitted to grow and use the drug for medical reasons.
The process has not been without its snags, however.
In Niles, for instance, the issue grabbed headlines when Steve Allain was evicted by the Niles Housing Commission after he was found to be growing marijuana inside his home. Because he lived on federally subsidized property, state law was superseded and Allain was forced to move out after the matter went so far as to be taken to court.
As it happens, Allain is an example of just one of the snags Hurst said many participants are seeing right now – a delay in the issuing of medical marijuana cards.
Hurst took over the role of Allain’s caregiver. Participants can apply to serve as caregivers to patients who otherwise might not have the means to grow marijuana themselves, as might be the case with certain living situations.
Through the process, cards are supposed to be issued after 20 days. Hurst said he’s been waiting more than 70, for cards that he would have received for patients of which he is a caregiver, such as Allain.
He claims “resistance in the top brass of state government.”
“They’re behind so everyone is suffering,” Geoff’s wife Corin, also a member of the SWMCC said.
“They claim it’s a state budget problem,” Hurst said.
“We are experiencing some delays,” James McCurtis, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health said Tuesday.
“We are working, we’re trying to work as fast and as quickly as we can to reduce the backlog,” he said. “We do understand there’s some frustration out there.”
Because of that delay, however, McCurtis said for those waiting on cards that there were contingencies.
“We have a lot of applications and we have limited resources,” he said. Altogether, only two or three employees of the MDCH handle processing applications for the program – which is not their sole job.
Regardless of the delay, McCurtis said if applicants are denied, they will receive a denial letter within the 20 days. As the delay continues in issued cards, McCurtis said patients can use their applications as approved cards after the 20 day mark if they have not received a denial letter.
“I think the program’s working out fine in terms of people getting their applications in and we informing them whether they have been approved or denied,” he said.
Aside from red tape or tangled processes – there is another challenge facing those proponents and participants of the law: a bad reputation.
“That’s what we’re trying to do, is get the ‘pot head’ label off,” Missy DeForest, member of the SWMCC said Monday.
The club is trying to make itself more visible while also presenting its members in a positive light.
Hurst and DeForest say there continue to meet people throughout the community who are suffering through various medical conditions and have turned to marijuana to help with the pain, including many veterans who suffer from a variety of disorders and conditions.
“These people are in severe pain,” Hurst said of patients. “While marijuana doesn’t kill the pain, it’s bearable.”
For more information, visit www.swmichigancompassionclub.ning.com or www.michigan.gov/mmp.
The Michigan Medical Marijuana Program at a glance:
- 12,049 applications received since April 6, 2009
- 6,718 patient registrations issued
- 2,811 caregiver registrations issued
- 2,079 applications denied – most due to incomplete application or missing documentation
-An average of 70 applications are received each day
Source: Michigan Department of Community Health