Michigan Medical Marijuana Law Challenged: State Senate Bill 977 Would Ban Glaucoma Patient Use

The sponsor of a state Senate bill in Michigan is looking to outlaw the use of medical marijuana by glaucoma patients.

In 2008, voters passed the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which allows state-registered patients to use the herb to treat certain medical conditions. Senate Bill 977, approved in a state Senate committee last week, would prevent the state licensing agency from issuing medical marijuana cards for glaucoma and remove it from the list of debilitating conditions.

Several studies in the 1970s showed that smoking marijuana could lower interocular pressure for people with glaucoma, according to the "Western Journal of Medicine."

State Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) sponsored the legislation.

“I have met with multiple medical professionals, and not one of them has been able to tell me a benefit of treating glaucoma with medical marijuana,” Jones said in a statement.

“In fact, a large problem is that many patients forgo the use of approved treatments such as eye drops and exclusively use medical marijuana which increases their risk for permanent visual loss and blindness,” he continued.

The Michigan Society of Eye Physicians & Surgeons has also come out against the law.

"Michigan law has inappropriately included glaucoma as a condition that will benefit from Medical Marijuana," the group stated in a press release, adding that the National Eye Institute and the American Academy of Ophthalmology do not support the practice.

Tim Beck, former political director of the pro-medical marijuana group Michigan Association of Compassion Centers, disagreed with Jones' assertions.

“Used in combination [with prescribed medicine] it’s proven very, very effective," he told City Pulse, a Lansing-based publication. “Anyone silly enough not to use their eye drops, well, maybe there’s something else wrong with them besides glaucoma.”

This is not the first time Jones, a former sheriff, has tried to restrict access to medical marijuana. He also sponsored Senate Bill 504, which prohibits marijuana dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of a school or place of worship, and Senate Bill 505, which prohibits convicted felons from legally selling the herb.

Matthew Abel is the executive director of the Michigan chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the campaign director of Committee for a Safer Michigan, a group trying to legalize marijuana in Michigan by a ballot initiative.

He told The Huffington Post that Sen. Jones was less motivated by health concerns than by his conservative agenda.

"I think Senator Jones is completely opposed to medical marijuana law and is attempting to chip away at it by any means necessary," he said, though he doubted Jones' ability to sell the bill to his colleagues.

"Nobody I've talked to in the legislature expects his bills to pass."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article identified Tim Beck as political director of the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers. He is a former political director of that organization and how heads the Safer Michigan Detroit Coalition.

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