Bureaucratic incompetence or part of the plan?
Nearly three years after the MMMA’s passage, problems abound. However, these “problems” aren’t those alleged and regularly reported on in the corporate-controlled media. Rather, they are those faced by patients simply trying to stay within the guidelines of, and to work with a system that we voters have provided them.
Whether due to bureaucratic incompetence on the part of the State of Michigan or the consequence of a coordinated effort by some key insiders to impede the process, the resulting injustice borne by medical marijuana patients is both inexcusable and unacceptable. While a mere few state officials insist that the law’s language needs to be “cleaned up,” they’ve completely ignored the ineptitude at their end. The fact is that before our authorities should assert a need to modify this law - one enacted by a majority of our citizens, as written - they need to first “clean up their own back yard.”
One can apply for a driver’s license renewal by “snail mail” and inside of a week, receive that renewal license in the mail. The same goes for motor vehicle registrations and an array of other items that require licenses and/or renewals. The process for MMMA certifications can and should work with the same ease. There’s no special technology required to process these certifications and the system was designed to be cost-neutral, with the fees paid by participants covering the costs associated with processing. It’s quite likely that the state would realize some financial gain beyond those costs as well. Even the CPL (Concealed Pistol License) process, requiring a much higher level of scrutiny such as fingerprinting, thorough criminal background check, face-to-face meeting with a local gun board, etc., has a 45-day requirement that must be met by the state for completion. (http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(14trqsuh5iciay55ch0dzz55))/documents/mcl/pdf/mcl-Act-372-of-1927.pdf)
In the three years since the medical marijuana law went into effect, it is estimated that the State of Michigan has received in excess of 8 Million dollars in fees from the program. By most people’s standards, that’s a lot of money, and is certainly enough to cover all costs related to the program.
The process is straightforward: a patient sends in their supporting paperwork along with their processing fee, the state verifies eligibility for the program, produces the patient’s identification card (not even a picture is required on it at this point), and promptly sends the card to the patient. This sounds simple enough. Not so fast; simplicity itself proves a bit too difficult for some bureaucrats to embrace.
For the first year or so, in spite of the program being new to everyone, my understanding is that things worked pretty much as outlined, with some exceptions, of course. Unfortunately, the process has since degraded to the point where although most patients continue to do their part as before, failure on the part of the state is rapidly turning into the norm. As I’m told, it’s routine for patients to send in their paperwork, the state promptly cashes their checks, and the patients hear nothing back for months. In fact, four to five months is a common length of time to wait, while in the interim, patients run the risk of prosecution or at the very least, harassment as they await their cards. Again, there are exceptions, but those exceptions appear a rarity.
Some patients – particularly those who are disabled and receiving Social Security benefits – report that after the several-months-long wait (their checks having been long since cashed), they will receive a letter of denial from the state, requiring them to respond with further proof of eligibility and also requiring that they respond by a pre-determined date. Sometimes this letter of denial and date-specific requirement arrives – by certified mail – after the date they are required to respond back.
Some patients have reported that the state took so long to process their renewals that the renewal licenses themselves were already close to their expiration date, and occasionally even past the expiration date by the time they received them.
Being neither a medical marijuana patient nor caregiver, I’m unable to speak from my own personal experience. However, having archived the tales of many others who have fallen victim to these unfortunate circumstances provides me insight into what kinds of problems these affected individuals face. I will share, in part, some of the testimonials these patients have made, while omitting their names to protect their privacy. Their stories tell a tale of incompetency that, in the case of any other state function, would never be tolerated.
Complainant “A” wrote:
“My renewal was due on June 1, 2011. I sent all my paperwork on April 25, 2011, including my 1099 from Social Security; the same thing I have done for 3 years now, and they always accepted it. On May 5, 2011, my check was cashed by the state. On June 21, 2011, I received a letter stating that I had to sign for a letter from the Regulatory Division. When I opened it, the date on the denial letter was May 17, 2011. I’m not sure why it took them 34 days to mail it to me, but they only gave me 1 week to return all my paperwork with verification from Social Security or I would not be considered a renewal. I went to Social Security the next day and picked up a verification letter, made copies and mailed them back to the state on June 22, 2011. It was sent registered mail, and they signed for it on June 23, 2011. 81 days and I’m still waiting. It took 10 days for the check to go from my house to Lansing, and into their bank account, 57 days to get denied, and 81 days of inaction on their part, and still counting. I am 100% permanently disabled. This was not easy for me, nor is it for other patients. We need to fix this. I hope someone can help.”
Complainant “B” wrote:
“My card was set to expire on June 1st, so I sent my renewal paperwork in on March 23rd. I received my new card on June 21st.”
Complainant “C” wrote:
“They sent me an expired card. I received the card 6 days after it had already expired. Although, one of the employees issuing the cards told me over the phone that the card would actually still be active for 60 days after the expiration date. I don't know if a cop is going to play by that rule. Then when I talked to the department over the phone they said that I should receive my renewal application within 4 months (as long as nothing goes wrong) and that was at the beginning of July. Only time will tell. It has already been just over a month since I sent in my renewal forms”.
Complainant “D” wrote:
”My renewal was due on July 1, 2001. I sent it in with my Social Security 1099, as I had done in the past. All paperwork was mailed on May 11, 2011. On July 16th, I received a denial from Regulatory Division stating the 1099 was not valid for Social Security Benefits. They wanted a current copy of my disability benefits from Social Security. The two forms that Social Security sends me each year: the 1099 and a benefit amount letter were not sufficient. I mailed out my Social Security determination dated April 6, 2008, and explained that was the only determination I was given, and that they do not update my determination each year for disability. I am 100% permanently disabled. That packet was mailed on July 16, 2011 and I have not received my card or another letter from the state since.
The Regulatory Division stated I only had until August 15th to comply or I would have to get a new card, and not a renewal. I thought to myself, you're giving me a time limit? I mailed my paperwork earlier with the documentation I have been using for the last three years. They never sent out an explanation in advance that they were changing the rules for renewal. I refuse to pay the extra $75.00 for this card. I am carrying my doctor's certification, my expired card, both return receipts, and the bank copy showing that the state of Michigan cashed my checks. They just want your money for nothing. I've just decided I'm going to fight this one out on principal.”
Complainant “E” wrote:
“My renewal was mailed in October 2010, and I got my card in February 2011. It took 4 months. Who knows what the excuse is. Initially, my original card took 95 days to get. Now, the renewals exceed that time.”
Complainant “F” wrote:
“I have two patients who received their cards, listing me as the caregiver on the back, but I never received the caregiver cards myself. I called the department, and sent them a letter. It’s been 4 months since my patients got their cards and I still have no caregiver cards for them! I’m afraid to even use their plant count without having the actual card since the paperwork is so old!”
Complainant “G” wrote:
“I sent my renewal in two months ago and nothing yet. I have the same doctor and qualifying condition as I’ve had from the beginning. Yet my driver’s license renewal got here in less than two weeks.”
Complainant “H” wrote:
“I've gotten my card in 2008, 2009 and 2010 in the same way that I tried to get it this time, but this time they denied me. They still cashed my check but then sent a letter saying they needed my Social Security benefit 1099 statement sent in, along with my application, and this letter of denial (I did send it the 1st, 2nd and 3rd time around).
I sent the same three pieces of paperwork back, less my authorization letter that my doctor filled out because they kept it when originally sent. How am I be able to send it back if they have it? I did send the Social Security 1099 benefit statement, the same as every other year.
I read that if they've cashed your check, your card is on the way. WRONG! Anyway, they sent out another letter of denial on July 15th - which I received on July 18th - and this letter says if it's not sent in by the 15th with the right paperwork that I would have to start the whole process over. Well, that's impossible since I didn't even receive it again until the 18th. I tried calling but couldn't even leave a message because their mailbox was full. So, I just sent out another $75 check (the balance of a normal fee for a non-Social Security patient), and the same paperwork for the 3rd time since May (My present card expired on June 1), because I'm just not sure what the hell they are even doing down there in Lansing.
It sure seems that they are making it totally impossible this time around. It's odd to me that they cashed the check first, and then sent a denial letter at the same time. I'm so frustrated with this mess I just don't know what to do. I'm on Social Security and qualify for the reduced fee, but who knows what's going on. Not me, that’s for sure.”
Complainant “I” wrote:
“It seems that these issues of denial have developed since LARA took over (Social Security proof, etc.). Are they trying to eliminate the lesser charge for disabled people?
Complainant “J” wrote:
I sent my paperwork in with full payment 55 days before my card expired. Still no card 70 days since the papers were sent in. I hope to get some legal help from the ACLU. I am tired of sending the state $100 every year and getting such poor service. With the $8M plus they have collected so far you would think they could afford a state of the art system with a lot of manpower.”
Complainant “K” wrote:
“I don't know what triggers this slow response from the state. It is taking as long this time as it did the first time. As a taxpayer, that’s unacceptable.”
Complainant “L” wrote:
“I have a permanent disability, and when I first became a legal patient last year, I sent a copy of my 1972 DSS Award Letter along with my fee, and had no problem receiving my card. I did the same this year...sent on June 30th...and this morning I had to sign for TWO identical certified letters from the state (what a waste of money!!) that told me I was denied because I did not have a current disability award letter. This is past the 20 day time-frame and my card expired on August 1st. Now for me, this means a trip to the SS office, plus more copies and more mailing and more waiting for my card. I know that this is harassment, pure and simple, when no better proof than a current 1099 from Social Security would be the perfect proof of eligibility, yet they won't accept that either.”
Complainant “M” wrote:
“I sent my renewal in to the state May 20, and it was received May 24. Still no card. My old one expired July 1st. I’m just wondering what the consequences would be if I just said screw the state and didn't file with them. I got my card for a debilitating condition that isn't getting any better, so logically, if I got a recommendation once, it should be good until I die or get over the condition. Why should I have to jump through a hoop that keeps moving?”
Complainant “N” wrote:
"May 5, 2011: My renewal check was cashed by the State of Michigan.
June 1, 2011: My current card expired.
June 21, 2011: I was denied my renewal, based on supposed insufficient proof of Social Security disability.
June 22, 2011: I mailed my verification paperwork from Social Security to the state.
June 23, 2011: LARA signed a registered letter for my paperwork.
August 27, 2011: Still no card… 114 days, and still waiting.”
Complainant “O” wrote:
I can't believe it! My husband has been receiving Social Security Disability for a number of years now (it's a permanent award because his MS is Primary Progressive). When his renewal came due, we called Social Security Administration in Chicago (our regional office) and had them send a statement of monthly allotment. We waited the extra two weeks to get the new letter from SSA. Today the mail carrier made me sign for a registered letter from the State of Michigan saying my husband’s renewal in the Michigan Medical Marijuana Program is denied.
There are NO other disability papers I can send, and I'm sure they're denying the claims to apply for the reduced rate so that they can GET MORE MONEY!!! I'm quite aggravated with the state’s BS and know damned well they're not going to take an award letter from 1997 that is 14 years old. It's also a timing issue of course, since his card expires at the end of the month. “
Need I continue? These so far untold stories haven’t been included in any public discussion over modifying the MMMA, and haven’t been carried by other mainstream media outlets, yet they expose an apparent unwillingness or inability to administer this program properly. Keep in mind that the MMMA lays out in clear terms what the responsibilities of the state are, through the Michigan Department of Community Health, or as it stands under changes made by the Snyder administration, its successor agency, LARA (Licensing and Regulatory Affairs). Also bear in mind that this is the same authority insisting on a need to “clean up” the law, as some of our legislators are suggesting.
Governor Rick Snyder campaigned, in part, on making the state more efficient and cost effective in carrying out state business, but it’s obvious that this supposed model of efficiency hasn’t been applied to the Medical Marijuana Program - not by any stretch. Under the Granholm administration, while being openly hostile to the sheer idea of medical marijuana and in spite of their work behind the scenes to oppose any efforts to make it a legal, acceptable option at the state or local level, the program still performed as intended in most instances.
It wasn’t until shortly after Rick Snyder’s debut as Governor when things took a turn for the worse. Perhaps to some extent this is due to the new administration getting settled, but that scenario is highly unlikely given that all other state functions, including the processing of all other types of licenses, have continued to operate seamlessly. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt but have a hard time convincing myself that this isn’t part of an organized plan to punish the people for thinking they could have their say in regard to our laws (think Term Limits), or for having the audacity to think that citizens could have the power to decide what is acceptable.
“Of the people, by the people and for the people” is an ideal long forgotten by those who prefer a system of authoritarian rule, which is becoming more prevalent with the passage of time as our governmental bodies at every level continue to both ignore and oppose the wishes of its citizens.
Regardless of who coins the term, and particularly with regard to this issue, “hope and change” has proven a hollow promise and an abject failure.
So, here in Michigan, is it incompetence or is this all just part of a menacing, covert plan? You be the judge.
Within the realm of discussion among our state leaders on this subject, seldom, if ever, have the needs and concerns of patients been represented. That in itself is unacceptable and needs to change. I strongly urge patients - as well as those sympathetic to their plight - to rise up against these imperialist attitudes, boldly questioning their actions and motives. Make your voices resonate among your elected officials at EVERY level, and demand that your concerns are represented in earnest. Your access to a natural, effective remedy depends on it, and can prove vital to your health, welfare and safety.
With so much at stake, apathy and inaction on the part of patients is a poor choice of options.