The state of Michigan in US has begun to medical marijuana patient ID cards. The state Department of Community Health will send across 150 cards in the first instance. About 700 others are awaiting approval.
To qualify for a card that makes it legal to use marijuana to alleviate debilitating medical conditions, applicants must have a signed doctor's note and pay $100. Low-income residents can get the card for $25.
Last November, voters approved a ballot measure making it legal to smoke or possess marijuana for medical use, making Michigan the 13th state in the nation to do so.
Once an applicant is approved for use, "You must carry the card in order to possess or smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes" James McCurtis, a government spokesman told Detroit News.
Carrying the card protects a user from penalties and prosecution.
Medical marijuana users are not allowed to possess more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana and have no more than 12 marijuana plants.
The law legalizes medical marijuana to ease the pain of certain illnesses specified by the state, such as cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer's disease and HIV/AIDS.
Meantime the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation opened a clinic to help patients qualify with the state to treat their health problems with medical marijuana. "If a patient has a qualifying condition, then our doctors will help them get a permit," said chief executive Paul Stanford, adding the clinic pre-screens patients to ensure they've already been diagnosed with an illness approved for treatment with medical marijuana. The clinic doesn't sell or dispense marijuana, because that's against the law.
The Portland, Oregon-based organization is taking roots in what could soon become a budding niche industry in Michigan.
"You're looking at a $10 million annual industry that physicians aren't going to turn their backs on for too long," said Brad Forrester, a communications director for the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, which began organizing last year and is applying for nonprofit status with the state.
Stanford said he sees the clinic's role as simple: to provide patients with access to doctors willing to write the state-required certifications qualifying them for a medical marijuana permit card.
Despite the drug's legalization in more than a dozen states for medicinal use, many doctors won't recommend it -- either because they fear legal reprisal or don't see it as the best therapeutic option.
For patients like Dave Rice, a 30-year-old Brighton resident who suffers from arthritis pain brought on by a severe knee injury, the clinic is providing a more natural alternative to narcotic pain-relievers to soothe his symptoms.
"This might be something that can relieve my pain and help," Rice said, noting he was interested in taking the marijuana in pill form, rather than smoking it -- an option Stanford said many patients choose to avoid a cannabis-induced high.
The foundation also expects to see competition arise in Michigan from other medical clinics or doctors' offices setting up shop to meet the growing demand for medical permits. That's been the case in other states.
Michigan could see other industry outgrowth, such as stores selling pot-growing equipment.
The new law could seed another line of business: a caregiver, a person designated to help the ill cultivate or obtain medical marijuana, Forrester said.
"Caregivers are going to be an industry here in Michigan, as well," he said, noting the association's Web site, www.michiganmedicalmarijuana.org, will make space available to caregivers who want to advertise their services.
Under the new law, caregivers also must register with the state, be older than 21 and have no felony drug convictions. Caregivers can ask patients to compensate them for the costs of their service -- such as money spent on growing equipment or buying seeds -- but can't legally sell the product.
The Michigan Department of Community Health will closely regulate doctors and medical clinics that certify patients for clinical cannabis use, watching for abuse, said Melanie Brim, a department director. The department will monitor doctors who appear to churn out high volumes of prescriptions, checking to ensure they're not certifying patients without an in-person exam and a careful look at their medical records, Brim said.