Medical marijuana caregiver, patient enrollment declines in 2013

Carol Hopkins, The Oakland Press

The number of Michigan medical marijuana caregivers in 2013 compared to the year before has dropped by nearly half — and people in the medical marijuana community say this is due to intimidation by law enforcement.

The statistics come from the annual report generated by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

The report covers activities from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 of each year.

“That is a huge drop,” said Rick Thompson, spokesman with Michigan Americans for Safe Access, said of the decrease from 50,188 caregivers in 2012 to 27,046 in 2013.

“People in the community believe it is the natural result of intimidation by police and prosecutors.”

In Oakland County, 4,425 caregiver licenses were issued in 2012. In 2013, that number dropped to 2,231.

Paul Walton, Oakland County chief assistant prosecutor, said the drop is reflective of court decisions.

“(Law enforcement and prosecutors) getting opinions from the Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court confirming what is clearly written in the legislation — that it has to be for a legitimate medical use and you have to be linked to your caregiver and your caregiver can only have five patients and limited amounts of plants and/or marijuana — is the difference-maker.”

Since voters passed the Medical Marijuana Act in 2008, several high-profile raids by law enforcement have occurred around the state, including a number in Oakland County.

The top reason patients cite for obtaining a registration card is severe and chronic pain, followed by severe and persistent muscle spasms.

In 2013, $10,897,581 in registration fees was collected, a $1 million increase from 2012. The program costs $4,052,782 to administer, according to state records.

The number of physicians writing recommendations for medical marijuana use in Michigan decreased from 1,928 in 2012 to 1,457 in the latest report.

Patient cards

Patients registration totals have remained nearly the same with 118,368 requesting cards in 2013, compared to 124,131 in 2012.

Oakland County dropped from 11,117 patient requests to 10,741.

“This is the first time in the 5-year history of the medical marijuana program that we’ve seen a decline in enrollment,” said Thompson.

“More patients are producing their own medicine. This is a natural evolution, and was anticipated but not to this degree. Oakland County lost more caregivers than the statewide county average, as did Macomb.”

Patient and caregiver Michael McShane, 53, of Ferndale praises the program, saying his being able to ingest medical marijuana oil for his skin cancer has changed his life.

“I had the same cancer four other times, and had it had been handled through (traditional doctors),” said McShane, who received his medical marijuana card in 2010.

When the cancer reappeared in 2012, he turned to medical marijuana.

“I didn’t think it would do anything,” he said.

He said he has seen a tumor eliminated and others shrink in size.

Others, including government agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services, have concluded that no sound scientific studies support medical use of marijuana for treatment.

Thompson said medical marijuana activists planned to work with legislators who back the law this election year.

“We also have two bills, No. 4271, which regulates dispensaries, and 5104, which addresses marijuana concentrates,” said Thompson.

Advocates are also working to change laws involving parents who are medical marijuana cardholders.

“We are also advancing industrial hemp through the Legislature,” said Thompson.

“We always have things to do.”