Mich. bill would allow medical pot sales at pharmacies

Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press

Medical marijuana users could buy tested and regulated pot from pharmacies under a bill passed Tuesday by the state Senate Government Operations Committee.

Opponents of the bill, however, say it is nothing more than an attempt to take business away from the small-scale and home growers.

"The voters decided that medical marijuana was a good thing for the state of Michigan, but unfortunately, very few parameters were put around that," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville a supporter of the bill. "For me, it's about the illegitimate use and the potential for not only a bad product, but it also getting into the hands of people who are underage."

Former Speaker of the House Chuck Perricone, who now represents Prairie Plant Systems, a licensed Canadian marijuana manufacturer, said the legislation would give medical marijuana users a better option for their cannabis.

"This is nothing more than an option or a choice. This product was marketed to the public as medical; let's make it medical," he said. "The market for this is virtually untapped. The potential for the product is tremendous."

Several dozen activists attending the committee meeting Tuesday said they feared the bill was a money grab by large-scale growers and pharmacies that want to muscle out home growers.

"We need to grow our own medicine," said Charmie Gholson, founder of Michigan Moms United, which fights for legal protections for medical marijuana users. "I'm not sure why a Canadian corporation can come in and try to buy our Legislature."

The bill would: amend the public health code and classify marijuana as a Schedule 2 controlled substance; provide for the licensure and regulation of facilities to grow and test pharmaceutical-grade pot; and allow those facilities to sell the drug to pharmacies to dispense.

Medical marijuana users would have to get an additional, enhanced certificate from a doctor to be able to buy the drug from a pharmacy. The bill also would restrict the sale of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis to 2 ounces per month, per customer who is at least 18 years old.

The option is needed for medical marijuana users, said Republican state Sen. Roger Kahn, to ensure a safe product free of toxins.

"Marijuana, if it's to be medical marijuana, should be held to the standard of medical safety and dosage predictability," he said. "The mold issue is serious, the pesticide issue is serious. Both of those have the potential to be lethal."

Kahn said the bill would not stop homegrown marijuana by either cardholders or caregivers.

"But I don't think that would be a good choice," he said. "The best choice would be to get something that is safe and predictable."

Rick Thompson of Americans for Safe Access said the issue of product quality isn't real.

"Unregulated cannabis has never killed anyone. There are no illnesses," he said. "Those issues are smoke screens."

The legislation, which passed on a 3-0 vote in committee, is contingent upon the federal government reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule 2 controlled substance, which would give it medical legitimacy and would allow pharmacies to dispense it. Marijuana is now a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which the federal government still considers an illegal substance with no medical benefit.

Perricone said the federal government has taken a number of steps to broaden the availability of marijuana, from signaling that it won't prosecute in states that have approved medical or recreational marijuana use to allowing for broader access to financing for marijuana businesses.

But Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, said she was uncomfortable supporting a bill that has to wait for congressional approval. She passed on voting on the bill, which now moves to the full Senate, where it is likely to be brought up for a vote later this week.

"It's an unusual step for the Legislature to act in case something that may or may not happen in the federal government," she said. "The attorney general's discretion is something very different from congressional approval."