For a state department that does nothing but print and issue marijuana registry cards, you'd think the expenses would go down when fewer cards are issued.
Not so at Michigan's Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Department (LARA), the agency responsible for administering the state Medical Marihuana Program (MMP) patient database.
In Fiscal Year 2013 the state printed 145,000 cards for the program and spent $4 million in expenses. In FY 2014 LARA issued 119,000 cards and charged Michigan citizens $5.8 million to do it.
The $5.8 million comes directly from the Medical Marihuana Fund, a self-generating fund created by the revenues from registration fees paid by medical marijuana patients and caregivers. It was reported earlier in 2014 that the fund had a positive balance of more than $27 million.
Revenue figures for FY 2014 dropped significantly. LARA reports $8.882 million received versus $10.898 in FY 2013.
"The department has a relatively simply task in processing applications and issuing licenses to program participants," said Jamie Lowell, co-founder of Ypsilanti's 3rd Coast Compassion Center and Chairman of theMichigan chapter of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "Although the amount of work has decreased, the cost to run the department has inexplicably significantly increased."
What LARA is doing with all that extra money is unclear.
"Perhaps some of the excess funds could have been reimbursed to patients, since the state is not intended to profit from the MMMP program," said Matthew Abel, an attorney and co-founder of Detroit's Cannabis Counsel. He's also the Executive Director for the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (MiNORML). "If the state wants to profit, then we should move toward legalization and collect state sales tax on marijuana. If we did that, perhaps we could fix and maintain the roads without raising the sales tax."
PROGRAM STILL STRONG
As the result of legislative action in 2012 the MMP began a two-year registry period in 2013. Each medical marijuana identification card issued for half of FY 2013- starting in April- would not have to be re-registered until 2015 or 2016.
Renewal applications for the MMP would have been received during the last quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, meaning there should have been no renewal applications submitted to or approved by LARA from April - September, 2014, the last half of FY 2014.
In FY 2013 there were a total of 36,175 renewal applications approved by LARA and only 18,436 in FY 2014- almost exactly half. This lack of renewal applications is a result of that new 2 year program and these figures indicate the MMP is not declining in number of registered participants.
Similarly, the number of new applications indicate solid support for the program. The number of Initial Applications received in FY 2014 was 92,652- a 32% increase from the 70,262 reported during FY 2013.
FY 2013's new patient enrollment numbers are partially inflated due to a backlog of 2012 applications being processed in the next fiscal year. The number of Initial Applications reported was not inflated by that backlog.
Some activists were expecting the increase in number of new applications filed. "I'm not surprised," said Brad Forrester, a Board member with the MiNORML group. "There are at least 1,000,000 people in the state who qualify for the [medical marijuana] program. If those people ever want access to medical cannabis treatment options, they better get involved with one or more of the organizations lobbying legislators, like Michigan NORML, National Patients Rights Association or Americans for Safe Access to encourage legislators to pass laws that broaden access to medical cannabis treatment options, not make access more restrictive."
With similar intent, Cannabis Patients United's David Brogren suggested concerned patients and caregivers consider joining his organization, a registered 501(c)4 non-profit.