Michigan medical marijuana panel draws criticism, again

For second time, makeup of board conflicting with state mandates
Aug. 4, 2013

Written by
Scott Davis
Lansing State Journal

A state panel tasked with reviewing eligible conditions for medical marijuana use is again drawing criticism days before its first meeting.

In April, the state disbanded the panel after admitting Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs officials didn’t follow state rules in appointing the panel. It was mandated by Michigan’s 2008 medical marijuana law and state officials missed a statutory deadline to appoint its members by three years.

LARA officials have since reappointed the panel — it’s to meet for the first time Tuesday — but the panel’s composition again is in violation of the same state administrative rules that led to its dissolution in March.

At issue is the fact that the 10-member panel has six members who also serve on the state’s Advisory Committee on Pain and Symptom Management. State administrative rules enacted in 2009 require the panel to have seven members from that committee.

“It doesn’t lend us much confidence. I just assumed they would complete the process properly after the false start (this year),” said Matthew Abel, a Detroit attorney and medical marijuana advocate. “It surprises me that they would begin to hold meetings without having all the members appointed. I guess nothing should surprise me anymore.”
Actions defended

Advocates consider the panel essential because it is the only process by which eligible conditions for medical marijuana use can be added. Under the law, residents can use medical marijuana, with a doctor’s approval, only for specific ailments, including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and Crohn’s disease.

LARA spokeswoman Jeannie Vogel defended her agency’s actions and said the lack of a seventh committee member on the panel is not an oversight. She said LARA intends to add the seventh member as soon as Gov. Rick Snyder fills a vacancy on the pain and symptom management committee.

That committee appointee will then be appointed to the panel, Vogel said. She said she is not sure when the appointment will occur, and Snyder administration officials could not be reached for comment. Under state rules, the medical marijuana review panel can have up to 15 members.

Conduct business

But Abel said it is unclear whether the panel can conduct business Tuesday without the required number of advisory committee members. That day, the panel is scheduled to consider petitions to add insomnia and PTSD as an eligible condition for medical marijuana.

LARA and Snyder administration officials say the panel can conduct business even though the panel lacks the required number of members.

“Our position is that the rules do indicate seven members, but also do not specifically convey or require all seven for a quorum or to do business,” said Sara Wurfel, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder. “In the interim, we are working hard to find a qualified, interested medical doctor to fill the remaining appointment.”

The administrative rule states the following: “Members of the review panel shall include, but not be limited to, the Michigan chief medical executive and seven appointed members of the advisory committee on pain and symptom management….The seven review panel members from the advisory committee on pain and symptom management shall include four license physicians and three non-physicians.”

LARA disbanded the first panel in April because the panel was in violation of this administrative rule, according to an April 29 letter sent to a panel member by Carole Engle, director of LARA’s Bureau of Health Care Services.
Growing cynical

Martin Chilcutt, who says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from his years of military service in Korea and Vietnam, said he is growing more cynical at the review panel’s ability to operate properly. Last year, the Kalamazoo man, who wants to add PTSD as an eligible condition, sued the state in Ingham County Circuit Court over its three-year delay in forming the panel.

Shortly after Chilcutt filed his suit, LARA convened a review panel in December. In January, Ingham County Circuit Judge Clinton Canady III dismissed Chilcutt’s lawsuit against the state, saying the issue had become moot because the new state panel was functioning. Three months later, the state disbanded the panel because of the administrative rules.
Unclear reasons

“I am very skeptical based on their past, on their track record,” Chilcutt said. “Everything they have done so far, they have screwed up. But I am glad they are appointing a new board.”

According to state law, the state was supposed to form the review panel by October 2009, but for unclear reasons, that was never done. Snyder administration officials noted the panel was the responsibility of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration in 2009 and 2010, and that under the Snyder administration, state licensing agencies went through a process of reorganization and merger that became LARA in 2011.

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