LANSING, MI — Michigan medical marijuana registry cards may get cheaper for most patients but cost more for some individuals on public assistance under rule changes proposed by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
The draft rules, which are under review before finalization, would establish a $60 flat fee for a two-year registration.
Fees for the medical marijuana program initially cost $100 a year, but a reduced fee of $25 was available for individuals who were enrolled in Medicaid or received supplemental Social Security benefits.
The fees, which are intended to cover operational expenses but have produced excess revenue, were essentially halved in April of 2013, when a new law took effect that made registry cards valid for two years instead of one.
LARA says 88 percent of all medical marijuana patients currently pay full price, and those individuals would see their two-year fee drop from $100 to $60. Under the original fee structure, two years on the registry would have cost $200.
But low-income patients on Medicaid or supplementary Social Security would see the two-year cost jump from $25 to $60. Prior to April 2013, those patients would have spent $50 if they chose to register for two years.
LARA, as part of a recent cost-benefit analysis, explained that the “changes will eliminate staff time spent processing and verifying the supporting documentation required for reduced fees,” but critics have questioned elimination fo the discounts.
“I don’t know why there’s a reason to punish the poor people, because they certainly can afford to give them a $25 registration,” said Matthew Abel, an attorney for the Detroit-based Cannabis Counsel. “It may make it easier on the government, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better for the people.”
The revised fee structure is part of a much larger proposal designed to streamline services and update Michigan marijuana rules, which were quickly established after voters approved medical use in 2008.
LARA also wants to move the application process online, charge registered caregivers $25 for their own criminal background check and impose a $10 fee for revised or duplicate registry cards.
The department held a public hearing on the draft proposal in July, and final rules should be submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules for consideration “within the next couple of weeks,” according to a LARA Spokesperson Jeannie Vogel.
Several groups and medical marijuana activists raised concerns over the draft rules, and it’s possible some provisions may still change before finalization.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan questioned why the department would eliminate all registration discounts for needy patients and warned that requiring all applications to be completed online could negatively impact those without internet access.
“It looks like they’re anticipating an all-online process, and I just want to make sure they’re going to have some way to make sure that people who can’t do it online have the ability to apply in a way that isn’t burdensome,” said ACLU legislative director Shelli Weisberg.
“I wasn’t necessarily opposed to what they’re proposing, but it certainly looked like that’s the direction they were going.”
LARA, in its own analysis, noted that “residents of rural areas with inconsistent internet service may complain about needing to submit applications online” but did not specify whether there would be any offline method available for those without computer access.
The department said the most “common complaint from applicants for renewal and registration is that the process takes too long” and suggested that the process is often delayed when a patient submits an incomplete application, which would not be possible online.
LARA is reviewing comments from the public hearing, but Vogel said there is “no word yet if any changes will be made as a result.” Once submitted, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules will have 15 days to act on the proposal.
The department approved more than 82,000 new medical marijuana applications and 36,000 renewals for the fiscal year ending September 30, according to department reports mandated under the voter-approved law.
The state pulled in $10.9 million in 2013 but only spent about $4 million on program administration. As of the new year, the state had a stockpiled savings of roughly $23.5 million in the Michigan Medical Marihuana Fund.
The fiscal-year 2015 budget, set to take effect Oct. 1, appropriates $3 million from the fund to provide grants to county law enforcement officers for education, communication and enforcement of medical marijuana rules.
Jonathan Oosting is a Capitol reporter for MLive Media Group. Email him, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service — if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.