LANSING- When Nancy Grace appeared on CNN and asked the millions of viewers worldwide, "What about the babies?" she was asking about the effect of marijuana use on our nation's youth. She certainly could have been asking about the effect of a potentially devastating bill proposed in the Michigan legislature that would allow landlords to refuse to rent to families whose children depend on a cannabis therapy to abate their illness.
The bill, SB 783, would allow property owners to create leases forbidding the smoking or growing of marijuana on rental or lease property, essentially creating an opportunity to ban those persons who have been medically certified and state-sanctioned to use the treatment method. Michigan has 125,000 registered medical marijuana patients, including dozens of sick children.
The rules governing pediatric marijuana use were straightforward when the law was passed in 2008 but court decisions and Attorney General Opinions have changed the rules. In Michigan at this time, parents of pediatric marijuana patients- those children who have been certified to use cannabis as pills, liquids, creams, ointments and other non-smoked forms of the medication- find themselves in a Catch 22.
The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (the Act) requires that all medications used by the ill child must be created or obtained by a single parent or legal guardian, called a caregiver. The Act did not create a system of dispensaries (although there are more than 100 operating in Michigan today), and a court decision from 2012 determined that patients cannot trade, exchange or sell marijuana to each other- or to anybody. A more recent court decision has narrowed the forms of marijuana that can be legally used by patients of any age.
To remain legally compliant a caregiving parent cannot acquire their child's medicine from a distribution center or another patient/caregiver; they must grow all the medicine their child uses and then create the limited variety of foodstuffs allowable under the law in their own home. The parent's only alternative: purchase marijuana with unknown properties on the black market at high risk and high prices.
Parents of ill children are often financially strapped for cash as medical treatments and physician appointments consume their income. "Many of these families are single-income households out of necessity," said Jamie Lowell, Chairman of the Michigan chapter of the national organization Americans for Safe Access. "One parent has a full-time job taking care of the child's medical needs. These are the people that would be most severely disadvantaged by the new rule," he told TCC.
Jim Powers of the Michigan-based organization Pediatric Cannabis Therapy has been a vocal supporter of common sense medical marijuana laws. The group brings together parents of ill children for networking, support and lobbying efforts. A Macomb County resident, Powers' young son has severe medical issues that he's successfully held in check through the use of medicinal marijuana, as recommended by two physicians and sanctioned by the State. "My son's illness has been in remission for 229 days," Powers told TCC.
"As parents of children with life threatening illnesses, many of us have been financially devastated as a result of the medical care our children necessitate," Powers said. "Many of us have lost our homes to foreclosure as a result and are forced to rent. SB783 will potentially remove the only legal avenue that our parents are able to obtain their child's medication. Without the presence of a distribution system, such as the one provided for in HB4271, these families may see the only legal method of providing medication for their child prohibited by their landlord."
Although families with ill children are particularly vulnerable, many of the Michigan voters enrolled in the MMA are financially struggling and rely on discounted enrollment costs to remain in the program. After all, Michigan has been the state hardest hit by the recent economic downturn in America. The working poor of the state are often one financial speedbump away from disaster; it is the opportunity to use medicine that costs less than traditional pharmaceuticals that drove many to try marijuana for the treatment of their illness or injury.
"These potential changes to rental agreements could remove long-term tenants with no history of problems from their living situations- even if they haven't done anything wrong, ever," said Steve Greene, radio show personality, caregiver and medical marijuana advocate from Oakland County.
SB 783 offers a more invasive adjustment of the MMA, one that could affect nearly every certified and card-holding medical marijuana patient in Michigan. For adult patients, the majority of whom smoke or vaporize their cannabis in the traditional method of use, their own home would no longer be their sanctuary.
The 2008 MMA prohibits use of medical marijuana 'in any public place.' SB 783 would further define that phrase to prohibit any smoking of marijuana on private property where others could see, even if that place is inside their home but visible from outside.
"This bill creates two sets of different rules," said Greene. "Property owners would have greater rights than most renters, even if their illness and needs are the same. Rural patients- those that have property large enough to be totally screened by trees or fencing from onlookers- would have a decided advantage over their city-dwelling friends, whose smaller lots provide few opportunities for completely concealed smoking."
The potential new policy would keep patients hidden behind thick curtains or drive them into their basements to use their medicine, which is exactly where those patients were prior to the 2008 passage of the Medical Marihuana Act. A Senate analysis of the bill admits that there would be a number of otherwise law-abiding patients slapped with misdemeanor charges every year, if this bill becomes law.
"We need to move forward, not backward," Lowell said, "and this legislation is a giant step backwards."