Michigan patients could purchase medical marijuana at a pharmacy under an advancing proposal that would require federal approval before implementation. Michigan’s Republican-led Senate on Wednesday approved a measure seeking to create a “pharmaceutical-grade cannabis” registry that would run alongside — but not replace — the patient-caregiver medical marijuana model approved by voters in 2008. Senate Bill 660, introduced by state Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw Township, is entirely dependent upon the federal government reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II drug, similar to OxyContin or Percocet. Without federal approval, the new system would exist only on paper.
Kahn, a medical doctor, says that regulating the product and selling it through pharmacies would allow patients to access marijuana that has consistent potency and is tested to ensure it does not contain molds, pesticides or other toxins. “This bill will give them a pure and pharmaceutical-grade alternative to homegrown marijuana, so that they’ll have the ability to make a choice, and in making that choice, they will have a product that accurately fits the name medical,” Kahn told his colleagues last week.
Under the proposal, the Michigan Department of Community Health would be tasked with licensing, registering and inspecting specialized marijuana manufacturing facilities. Those wishing to distribute would have to obtain a license from the Michigan Board of Pharmacy, as already required for other controlled substances.
Former state House Speaker Chuck Perricone, now working for Prairie Plant Systems Inc. of Canada, testified in support of the bill during a committee hearing last week. The bio-pharmaceutical company has been Canada’s primary medical marijuana provider for more than a decade and already owns an underground facility in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
“This product was marketed to the public as medical,” said Perricone. “Our fundamental premise is that we, in fact, make it medical — Pharmaceutical grade, pure, predictable, measurable, tested every step of the way. It will be, we believe, a small segment of the market, but it will be a choice. It will be an option.”
Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, spoke out against the bill on the floor and introduced failed amendments seeking to tie it to separate medical dispensary or recreational decriminalization bills. Whitmer questioned why the Senate would pass a bill benefiting a Canadian company when “we’re not doing squat” to improve current Michigan law.
“This issue is not ripe and it is not worthy of our time and resources until we address the problems that our residents are facing,” Whitmer said before the 26-16 vote. She was one of 11 Democrats and five Republicans who opposed the measure, which now heads to the House for consideration.
Roughly a dozen medical marijuana activists testified against the bill during a committee hearing last week, pointing out that homegrown pot has not been linked to any deaths and arguing that the pharmaceutical-grade registry would undermine the current law even if it doesn’t replace it.
Individuals certified to use medical marijuana would have to give up their old cards if they want to qualify for the new registry and would no longer be allowed to grow their own plants.
Tim Beck, a retired health insurance executive who helped spearhead the 2008 medical marijuana initiative, said he does not understand why the state Legislature would move a bill that has “no teeth” absent reclassification by the federal government. He noted that a House Bill to allow dispensaries may end up including required testing for molds and toxins.
Still, Beck is not overly concerned by the prospect of pharmacies selling medical marijuana so long as the patient-caregiver model that voters approved continues without interference.
“I would compare it to beer,” he said. “There’s companies like Anheuser-Busch that will sell a six pack of Budweiser that some people are fine with. In Grand Rapids and elsewhere in Michigan, you’ve got microbreweries that are preferred by true connoisseurs. They’re doing very well. And then you can actually make your own beer as long as you don’t sell it. That’s fine. Let the free market sort itself out.”
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