2017-09-21 / News

Sheriff Presents Lesson on Medical Marijuana Laws

By Erich T. Doerr

Marijuana dispensaries, permitted under a new state law in communities that decide to allow them, can be like double-edge swords, Mackinac County Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan Hookana told the Clark Township Board of Trustees at an August 16 meeting.

They can benefit residents who have marijuana prescriptions and put vacant buildings back on the tax rolls, he said, but can become robbery targets and carry risks associated with the use of newer, stronger forms of the controlled substance.

He appeared before the board to discuss changes coming after the state’s passage of Public Act 283 of 2016 addressing marijuana and dispensaries. Trustee Sarah Patton said Clark Township is holding off on making any decisions about dispensaries until there is more clarity from the state.

Under the new marijuana act, a township must pass a resolution to allow dispensaries to set up shop. They remain illegal in a township whose governing body takes no affirmative action.

There is a push from marijuana advocates for a statewide ballot initiative in 2018 that would call for legalized recreational marijuana use in Michigan. Much of the current dispensary talk is related to that proposal, not yet certified for the ballot, as entrepreneurs look to set up businesses catering to users if state voters give it the okay.

Mr. Hookana said several groups are trying to get local governments to pass ordinances that would allow dispensaries to sell marijuana and ‘edible’ products, also now legal for medical marijuana users, such as marijuana-infused butters for cooking.

The status of marijuana use remains a bit cloudy because it still is illegal under federal law, although federal authorities have chosen not to enforce that prohibition in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational use. That’s also true for a growing list of Michigan municipalities that have passed ordinances under which they don’t enforce state or federal laws against recreational marijuana use.

Michigan municipalities not enforcing state and federal laws against recreational use include Traverse City and several other northern mid- Michigan communities. Mr. Hookana said although there has been no action against them, so far, those communities could lose some of their federal funding in the future.

Marijuana use in Michigan still requires a prescription. Under the new marijuana law, facilities and growers will be classified based on their places in the supply chain. Mr. Hookana said dispensaries will be allowed to sell to anyone with a prescription; whereas users have been supplied by caregiver-growers until now. He said medical marijuana users can travel, or move, to buy from dispensaries in communities that allow them.

Mr. Hookana said while dispensaries can have benefits for communities, which also will receive a limited portion of their profits as an incentive for allowing them, he thinks they could become robbery targets because they deal largely in cash. Because use remains illegal under federal law, federally insured banks can’t accept money from marijuana dispensaries, he said, and the dispensaries are prohibited from having weapons on their premises for protection.

There are also issues related to the higher levels of the chemical tetrahy- drocannabinol (THC) in marijuana as home chemists worked to make the substance stronger, he said. In Colorado, where recreational use is legal, for example, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus found there has been about a doubling of the number of emergency room visits and poison control calls involving young children who consumed pot in 2014 and 2015, compared to years prior to the opening of recreational marijuana stores.

Denver District Attorney Mitchell Morrissey, an outspoken opponent of legalized marijuana, has said the change led to increases in marijuanarelated traffic deaths, emergency room visits, calls to poison control centers, and crime. The Denver Post, however, cited police department analyses indicating some of the increase – crime in particular – likely resulted from population increases.

Mr. Hookana said he has had to respond to a call about an Eastern Upper Peninsula resident who had a dangerous, irregular heartbeat from marijuana use. Some studies have linked marijuana to lower test scores and graduation rates for youthful users.

“As adults, I hope we would weigh those negatives for younger people,” Mr. Hookana said.

To a question from Mrs. Patton, Mr. Hookana said there has been an increase in drugged driver citations in Mackinac County since marijuana was legalized for medical use, although some of it is the result of increased misuse of other prescription drugs.

Township Supervisor Mark Clymer asked if the township has a viable way to test a driver for drug use. Mr. Hookana said blood testing and roadside tests of motor skills are available to deputies.

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