Even Legal Users Could Be Tangled in Criminal World of Drug Sales
KALAMAZOO -- Even if Michigan voters this fall approve the use of
marijuana for medical purposes, sick people will have to get friendly
with their neighborhood dope dealers to buy it.
There's no provision in the ballot proposal to provide access to the
drug through the state or pharmacies, and sale of the drug would
remain a felony, even to legal users.
Supporters hope users would grow their own plants, but in the interim
until harvest, the marijuana would have to be bought off the street.
"We've got people who will be legally able to possess marijuana, but
then they're going to be buying it from someone who is committing a
felony," said Joseph Taylor, commander of the Kalamazoo Valley
Enforcement Team, which targets illegal drug use in Kalamazoo County.
"I don't support that. That's a loophole that needs to be changed."
But Taylor does support the initiative's goal of providing relief to
those seriously ill as long as it's regulated and "there are proper
checks and balances in place."
And he believes there would be if the ballot measure passes.
Five Michigan cities currently have medical-marijuana ordinances.
Law-enforcement officials in two of those communities, Flint and Ann
Arbor -- similar in size to Kalamazoo -- said they have not had
complaints about medical marijuana since their laws went into effect.
In 2007, voters in Flint approved a medical-marijuana ordinance.
But opponents said the ordinance was essentially symbolic because
state and federal laws outlaw marijuana use in any form.
"It was a totally meaningless vote," said Genesee County Prosecutor
David Leyton, who opposed the ballot measure. "And the statewide vote
this fall will be meaningless, too, because marijuana would still be
illegal in the eyes of the federal government."
Still, Leyton said his office has not seen an increase in marijuana
cases since the 2007 vote. Those who are using medical marijuana in
Flint don't appear to be abusing it, he said.
Ann Arbor voters overwhelmingly approved a medical-marijuana ordinance in 2004.
"There's been no change whatsoever in (the number of cases) we've
seen here in the city," Ann Arbor Deputy Police Chief Greg Bazick
said. "It's been a nonissue."
Ann Arbor does have some of the most lenient marijuana laws of any
city in the country, even while the city charter states it is illegal
to use, possess, give away or sell marijuana.
Violations of the charter are considered civil infractions, with a
fine of $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second offense and third
and subsequent offenses capped at a $100 fine. For people using
marijuana for medical reasons as recommended by their physicians,
fines and other costs are reimbursed by the city.
No Need to Fear
Like his counterpart in Genesee County, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor
Jeff Fink opposes legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
But he also doesn't believe the amount of marijuana on the street
would increase if the initiative passed.
Fink said about 99 percent of the marijuana cases his office handles
deal with people who were being charged for illicit use or possession
of the drug.
"We're not concerned about overflow of marijuana or a possible
negative impact on the community if marijuana is made legal for sick
people," KVET's Taylor said.
Where KVET is seeing a problem, Taylor said, is in the number of
people addicted to legal drugs, such as OxyContin and Valium,
prescribed for pain and other discomforts.
"We're seeing a lot of abuse of these kinds of drugs," he said.
The International Narcotics Control Board has said the abuse of
prescription drugs is about to exceed the use of "practically all
illicit drugs with the exception of cannabis."
The board reported the number of Americans abusing prescription drugs
nearly doubled between 1992 and 2003, from 7.8 million people to 15.1
How Would It Work?
Fast forward to early 2009.
You are seriously ill and voters have approved the ballot initiative
allowing the use of medical marijuana.
Your primary-care physician recommends you use marijuana and you
receive your state-issued photo ID card indicating you are a registered user.
Expecting a shipment of marijuana from Lansing in your mailbox?
Heading to your local pharmacy to buy some marijuana? Think again.
It's your job to find your own marijuana. But what if you've never
used the drug and don't know anyone who does? And when you do acquire
some marijuana, how do you know what you're getting is what you need?
"They're doing it right now anyway. People are getting marijuana and
using it for medical reasons," said Dianne Byrum, spokeswoman for the
Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care, the group pushing for
passage of the ballot initiative. "We assume they will go through the
rigor to ensure they're getting what they need. People will consult
with their doctors."
Byrum said word-of-mouth will be a primary way medical users will
find out where to buy marijuana, but that the ultimate goal is to
have patients grow their own.
A mature marijuana plant grown inside a home can yield between
one-quarter to one-half pound of marijuana, Taylor said.
The ballot proposal does not protect those selling marijuana.
"The law is silent on that issue," Byrum said. "If the federal
government were to lift its restrictions and re-classify marijuana,
things would be different in terms of how a patient could acquire
Medical use of marijuana would still carry many restrictions.
Patients can't use the marijuana in public and cannot operate a car
or machinery while under the drug's influence, the initiative states.
They also could face stiff fines and possible jail time if they sell
or furnish marijuana to those who are not registered to possess the
drug. Failure to follow the initiative's guidelines would ban a
patient from the state's medical-marijuana registry.
"This can be implemented," Byrum said of medical marijuana. "The sky
is not going to fall."
Michigan would become the 15th state -- and the first in the Midwest
-- to have some kind of medical-marijuana law if voters pass the initiative.
It also would become the second most populous of the
medical-marijuana states, behind California.
Since 1996, when California became the first state to pass a
medical-marijuana law, other states have followed with voter-approved
initiatives or lawmaker-crafted legislation.
If that trend continues, does that mean the country is starting to
see a change in the way marijuana is viewed?
"This initiative is about carving out a space of legality for
something that is now criminalized," said Ronald Kramer, director of
the criminal-justice program at Western Michigan University.
"If we are seeing these proposals passing, then the conclusion is
that people are seeing marijuana as something that's not that
dangerous, something that's valuable."
Marijuana was legal until the 1930s, Kramer said, when
law-enforcement agencies and films like "Reefer Madness" convinced
the public that marijuana was a dangerous drug that would denigrate society.
That opinion has continued for the most part, Kramer said, but it
needs to change.
"We need to have a fundamental reassessment of all marijuana laws,"
he said. "A careful analysis would probably show they are doing more
harm than good. They are placing impossible demands on the
criminal-justice system to enforce these laws on overwhelmingly
"Medical marijuana could be the catalyst. It might cause us to have a
rational reassessment of our marijuana drug laws.
Newshawk: Michiganders Support Access www.stoparrestingpatients.org
Pubdate: Sun, 30 Mar 2008
Source: Kalamazoo Gazette (MI)
Copyright: 2008 Kalamazoo Gazette
Author: Chris Killian, Special to the Gazette
Cited: Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mmj.htm (Marijuana - Medicinal)