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Marijuana caregivers, patients deserve more rights, advocates say

flickr user Dank Depot

More than 50% of Michigan voters say in recent polls that they support marijuana legalization.

Two groups hope to put legalization proposals on the November 2016 ballot.

Dori Edwards has been watching closely as the groundswell of popular opinion about pot seems to be shifting.

Edwards is a caregiver and co-chair of the Ann Arbor chapter of Women Grow, as well as a consultant on the board of directors of Bloom City Club in Ann Arbor, a medical marijuana dispensary.

Edwards tells us that she has long had a passion for natural medicine, and becoming a caregiver has given her the opportunity to teach people about cannabis and to make sure that patients have access to a clean, high-quality product.

“[I] wanted to ensure that patients were receiving medicine that was clean, pesticide-free, residual-free, organic, mold-free,” Edwards says. “I just wanted them to have access to really clean medicine … if this was the choice they were going to take for their health.”

Voters approved Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Act in 2008, but since then the interpretation of the law has varied by county. Add to that the fact that some cities in Michigan have their own statutes allowing the recreational use of cannabis and the fact that it’s not legal at all on the federal level, and you’ve put caregivers and patients in a position that Edwards calls, “extremely stressful and contentious.”

“It’s a civil rights issue at the heart of it,” she says. “Yes, it is federally illegal, but our state has offered us the ability to have this as a medicine. … And because the state has not given us any language for provisioning centers, they have basically created criminals out of patients and caregivers.”

She tells us that despite the legal risks, many patients are choosing cannabis over traditional pharmaceuticals because it allows them to get the help they need dealing with their pain or other ailment without experiencing the intense side effects caused by some medicines.

“You’re taking very innocent people … and turning them into criminals,” she says.

Two groups, MILegalizeand the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, are pushing to get ballot proposals on the 2016 ballot allowing the recreational consumption of marijuana for adults. A third group, the Michigan Responsibility Council, was pursuing its own ballot proposal but has shifted gears and is now urging Michigan legislation to provide a licensing system for large-scale marijuana production and distribution operations.

Edwards tells us that she does not support the Michigan Responsibility Council, pointing to its focus on big business and its desire to line the pockets of a select few through control of the marijuana business.

“I think that basically, if you want to use a strong term, they are equivalent to the cartel,” she says.

The Michigan Cannabis Coalition isn’t seeking the same level of control over the business as MRC, but she doesn’t think that their proposal will really give dispensaries and patients the rights they deserve.

The one group that will give patients and caregivers those rights and create a fair economy, according to Edwards, is MILegalize.

“[MILegalize] leaves it in the hands of the people. These are the people who have suffered, the patients and the caregivers, and MILegalize is supportive of those people,” Edwards says.

Edwards tells us that she’s very excited for the legalization of marijuana in Michigan because of the income it could generate for the state.

As far as how legalization could affect her business as a caregiver, she says she’s not worried, adding that the benefit for the patients could be the most important takeaway.

“I think a lot of these dispensary owners really, truly do care about the people and the patients that they serve, and want them to make them feel comfortable coming into a place that doesn’t make them feel like a criminal,” Edwards says.

-Ryan Grimes, Stateside

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