LANSING, MI — Michigan is moving forward with new rules for its medical marijuana program despite concerns voiced by some lawmakers and patient advocates.
Under the pending rule change, the most significant revision of its kind since initial implementation of the 2008 voter-approved law, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs would would reduce two-year registration fees for most patients from $100 to $60.
But the new rules, set to take effect January 15, drew criticism during public hearings because LARA would also eliminate a reduced fee rate for residents who qualify for supplemental Social Security benefits or full Medicaid.
Some low-income patients could actually see registration fees increase from $25 to $60 this year, making it potentially more difficult for them to access the drug.
Overall, the revised structure would “reduce the registration fees for approximately 88 percent of applicants,” LARA spokesperson Jeannie Vogel said in an email.
She also noted that caregivers seeking certification to grow plants will also pay a $25 fee for their own background checks “instead of patients continuing to cover the cost to verify the caregivers eligibility.”
The proposed rules were met with opposition during an October hearing before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, where lawmakers raised various concerns beyond the fee structure and suggested that LARA make changes to the proposal.
Term-limited Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, questioned a requirement that petitioners must submit a peer-reviewed study when asking the Medical Marijuana Review Panel to consider adding a new condition to the program, noting that federal laws generally discourage university-funded research.
Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, criticized LARA plans to require online applications without providing an offline method for patients lacking Internet access.
“If the person can’t file the darn thing unless they go out and buy a computer, why are you saying to them they can’t register?” said Pappageorge, R-Troy, who was term limited as well and will not return in 2015.
JCAR did not sign off on the new rules and refused to grant a waiver of session days allowing for quicker implementation, a move that appeared to spell trouble for the medical marijuana program proposal.
But the panel does not actually have “approval” rights under the state Administrative Procedures Act, according to Vogel, and JCAR did not file a notice of objection within 15 days of receiving the rules package. “Hence, the rules may be filed and go into effect.”
Rick Thompson, a medical marijuana activist and and former editor of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine, said it was “disingenuous” for LARA to move forward with the rules without making any changes following the JCAR hearing.
“I think anytime you make a change to administrative rules where you ignore the input provided by the public and lawmakers, there’s a concern,” he said. “None of those concerns were heard. All of the issues raised remain in the new policy, and patients are not benefiting.”
The rules would allow Michigan to become the first state in the country to adopt a mandatory online registration process, according to Thompson.
He noted the logic of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is adopting online filing but will not abandon paper entirely because, as Chief Justice Justice John Roberts put it, “courts cannot decide to serve only the most technically capable or well-equipped segments of the public.”
The pending medical marijuana rules, available for review on the state’s website, will not immediately require online registration but will give the state that option moving forward.
“Mandatory online registration is being considered, but a final decision hasn’t been made,” Vogel said.
LARA processed 92,652 new medical marijuana applications in fiscal year 2014, according to a recent report to the Legislature required under the law. Of those, it approved 71,336 applications and denied 21,316.
Another 24,329 individuals filed renewal applications. The department approved 20,562 of those and denied 3,767.
Total applications were down from fiscal year 2013, which was expected after the state Legislature moved to make registry cards valid for two years instead of one.
Application fees generated $8.9 million between October 2013 and September 2014, down from a record $10.9 million the previous year. Despite fewer applications the cost of administering the program jumped from $4 million to $5.8 million, according to LARA, but processing speeds increased.
Only .45 percent of applications were not approved or denied within 15 business days, according to the report, down from 21.5 percent the previous year. About 1.6 percent of renewals exceeded the processing deadline, compared to 19.9 percent in fiscal year 2013.
The average processing time for initial applications was 9.1 business days in fiscal year 2014, while the average time for renewals was 9.6 days.