Delores Saltzman – an 80-year-old medical marijuana patient – was thrown in jail recently after getting caught with less than an eighth of an ounce of cannabis and an expired medical marijuana card.
Saltzman has been using cannabis under Michigan’s medical marijuana program to help treat chronic pain related to an injury she sustained several years ago. She says that she was originally prescribed opioids by her doctor but made the switch to cannabis when the side effects of her previous medications became overwhelming.
“[Cannabis] saved my life because I had a bad bleed about four years ago,” Saltzman told Fox17. “After I smoke I go down to a one, pain-wise. Before I smoke, I would say I’m an 8 right now.”
But she was in even more distress on June 18, when Saltzman was taken to the county jail overnight after getting busted for possessing a tiny amount of cannabis and an expired medical marijuana card. The arrest happened after Clare County Sheriff’s Deputy Ashley Gruno came to Saltzman’s home to return a cell phone that Saltzman’s great-grandaughter had lost. When Saltzman opened the door, Deputy Gruno could smell marijuana.
Saltzman admitted the marijuana was hers and explained why she had it, but since she couldn’t produce a valid MMJ card, she was taken into custody. Spending hours in a cold cell wreaked havoc on her arthritis, she later recalled.
“That’s ridiculous – what they do to people, they don’t need to make you that cold,” Saltzman said of the conditions she faced while staying at the county jail overnight.
A statement issued by Clare County Prosecutor Michelle Ambrosius says the case was dismissed after she had her card renewed. Still, Saltzman’s son Mark says he believes the the situation should have been handled differently.
Dolores Saltzman was arrested in June for possessing a small amount of pot. Saltzman was a registered medical cannabis patient, having legally received a recommendation from her doctor to help with her arthritis symptoms, but she had let her MMJ card expire.
Michigan police have full discretion over whether to enforce the state’s medical marijuana laws to the letter, and Clare County Sheriff’s Deputy Ashley Gruno chose to use that discretion to put this octogenarian in jail for the night. Fortunately, local prosecutors allowed Saltzman a chance to avoid a court date. “Our goal is to ensure that individuals who utilize medical marijuana are doing so legally,” Clare County prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis said to FOX 17. “As such, Ms. Saltzman was encouraged to obtain her medical marijuana card and if she did so, the case would be dismissed. She did obtain her medical marijuana card and the case was dismissed.”
Michigan legalized medical marijuana back in 2008, but legislators rewrote the law in 2016 to impose a strict new set of regulations. All canna-businesses in the state are now required to be fully licensed, and businesses currently running without a license are being forced to shut down by September 15th. Cannabis attorney Bob Hendricks told Mlive.com that unlicensed canna-businesses are “running a whole set of very serious risks if you operate after Sept. 15,” including the “risk of prosecution” and the “risk of not getting a license at all ever.”
The state Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation (BMMR) received over 600 applications for official cannabis licenses under their new system, and expected to have these applications reviewed by June 15th. But the state failed to issue even one single license by that deadline due to a backlog of paperwork. The deadline was extended to September 15th, but so far the BMMR has only managed to issue seven licenses. The board will meet once more this month to consider 10 more applications, and next month to consider even more, but have admitted that they will only be able to consider a small fraction of the total applications by the deadline.
David Harns, spokesman for the BMMR, released a statement assuring the state’s patients that, despite the backlog, there will be enough licensed businesses to fulfill the demand for medical cannabis. “We fully expect that several provisioning centers will be open throughout the state by Sept. 15, with the ability to sell fully-regulated, safety-tested products to the state’s medical marihuana [sic] card holders,” he said, Mlive.com reports.
Even if the BMMR is able to follow through on its promise to award enough licenses by the deadline, industry insiders believe that a supply shortage is inevitable. The new regulations require that all medical cannabis products be fully tested for safety and potency, as well as being registered with the state’s new seed-to-sale tracking system. Every element in the supply chain, from cultivators to processors to testers to transporters, must also be handled by a licensed business, and a shortage of licenses in any of these categories will translate to supply bottlenecks.
Rocky Thomas, owner of State Line Wellness Center — which currently serves 3,800 medical marijuana patients — told Mlive.com that he believes that supply shortages will force him to close up shop. “There will be no product for me to legally access, therefore I will just have to shut the door,” he said. “It’s the cart before the horse.” Thomas noted that his patients, 75% of whom are over 50, will be without medicine until the state can resolve its licensing issue.
“They’re fighting glaucoma, they’re fighting opiate addictions,” Thomas said of his patients. “They are cancer victims fighting without chemo — and they’re actually winning.” Whether or not they can continue winning is now heavily dependent on if the state can resolve its licensing and regulatory issues in time.
Saltzman says she’s now sharing her story for two reasons: to encourage others to be open participants in the state’s medical marijuana program, and to encourage everyone to vote for the legalization initiative in November.
Legalization has followed busts of sick senior citizens in other jurisdictions.
Perhaps most infamously, in September 2016, Massachusetts cops used a helicopter to raid the home of an 81-year-old woman who was growing a single marijuana plant.
Less than three months later, Massachusetts voted to legalize recreational marijuana.