By Sarah Platt, WNDU 16
It received an emphatic 63% of the vote and majority support in all of Michigan's 83 counties.
You may recall, last November, Michigan residents voted to approve the use of medicinal marijuana for patients with serious ailments-- like cancer or chronic pain.
It's now been a month since the new medical marijuana law took effect. Michigan patients must get a doctor's recommendation and apply for a state permit to grow their own marijuana or designate a caregiver to do so.
Tonight, Newscenter 16's Sarah Platt begins her special report on the new law and who will benefit from it.
Viewers might not be aware that Michigan's medical marijuana law completely by-passed the state legislature. Because enough signatures were gathered, it went on the ballot as a public referendum and passed.
Here's a breakdown of the number of Michigan residents applying for medical marijuana.
As of May 1st, officials at Michigan's Department of Community Health tell us they've received 1,142 applications for medical marijuana. So far, 389 registration ID cards have been issued and 108 caregivers (or legal growers) have been given ID cards. These numbers are changing by the week.
Despite some controversy surrounding the new medical marijuana law, supporters say this is a big step for those who are dealing with serious and painful illnesses.
“I'm extremely happy that this has passed, ecstatic would be the word. I mean I've worked long and hard for this,” says Greg Francisco, Executive Director of Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Association.
Over the last decade, Francisco has been pushing for the legalization of medical marijuana in Michigan. The Paw Paw resident runs the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, a network of advocates, patients, caregivers, and doctors.
“I talk to people in intense pain that are unable to get out of bed and through their use of medical marijuana, again, are able to function and interact with their children and their grandchildren… I know that marijuana really is medicine, that it truly is medicine, truly does offer relief to people that are suffering,” explains Francisco.
Compassion Clubs are now sprouting up throughout Michigan. The clubs are support groups to connect patients with each other and to caregivers allowed to grow marijuana.
“There are plenty of seeds out there, seeds and clones are not hard to come by, it's just a matter of informal friendship circles and talking to people, they're there,” says Francisco.
Newscenter 16 attended the Berrien County Compassion Club's latest meeting. A few dozen people attended. To protect people's privacy, we were asked to turn off our cameras.
Our crew stayed for the meeting and afterwards talked to a couple patients. Both Tina and Bill say they've tried other doctor prescribed drugs and none bring the relief that marijuana does.
“It's the only thing that has actually released the muscles that are in spasm, and I have tried every kind of thing the doctors have prescribed-- and they all just made me feel like I wasn't part of the world anymore,” explains Tina.
“Now that there is a law that says, OK, I have this card. I can take my medicine and I don't have to worry that the cops are going to bust in the door,” adds Tina.
“With the cancer, it's in remission right now, so it's really not gone, so it's kinda stressful to wake up every day like that, wake up in the middle of the night, sweating,” explains Bill. “Marijuana relaxes me more and gives me an appetite.”
Bill says he's dealing with pain and stress from his prostate cancer-- which is in remission right now. Tina is dealing with chronic pain, including spasms and severe headaches.
Meantime, finding a Michigan doctor to sign a medical marijuana recommendation isn't easy.
“Many doctors are afraid to speak up or they're just riding the fence to see what happens,” says Francisco.
After several days and numerous phone calls and emails, Newscenter 16 found Dr. Ronald Zapf, a family physician in Otsego.
“This is something that can help a lot of people. For some people it will decrease their narcotic use, a lot of people have difficulties with narcotics and some of the other medicines we use for neuropathy, for pain, chronic problems,” explains Dr. Zapf.
So far, Dr. Zapf says hundreds have inquired about appointments, but so far he's only written about twenty recommendations for patients.
“There's a few that I'm turning down, what I'm doing here is I'm asking for people's previous records and if they don't have something that supports what the law is looking for, I won't see them,” says Dr. Zapf. “And everybody is told I need previous records. If they have MS, I need at least a report from a neurologist or if they have chronic pain, I need some verification that they've had this.”
As for Bill, he says his family physician wouldn't recommend medical marijuana, so he got one from Dr. Eric Eisenbud. Eisenbud is with The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation or THCF. He's a licensed ophthalmologist in the state of Michigan and has travelling clinics in states that have legalized medical marijuana. A spokesperson for Dr. Eisenbud tells Newscenter 16 that he's approved more than 600 patients for medical marijuana in Michigan.
Bottom-line, Bill and Tina are just happy medicinal marijuana is legal. Both think the new law is overdue.
“Even though they know their health is in really bad shape, at least they can survive a little bit better, at least a little bit easier to get by,” says Bill. “I'm just glad that the people of the state of Michigan voted for it to pass.”
The state permit required for medical marijuana patients must be renewed each year.
The application fee is $100 or $25 for low income applicants. That doesn't include fees for a doctor's visit.
Patients and caregivers with permits are allowed to grow up to 12 plants for one patient.
At the most, caregivers can take on five patients and grow 72 plants.
The patient must designate if they're growing or they're appointing a caregiver. They can't do both.
Patients can have up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana on them at a time.
Wednesday night at 11, we’ll continue our special report on medical marijuana in Michigan. We'll have a closer look at why some county and city officials have concerns about the new law. We'll also hear about a proposed Niles city ordinance that aims to tighten the rules surrounding the state law.
Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, http://www.michiganmedicalmarijuanaassocation.org
The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation,