Mich. to Vote on Legalizing Pot for Medical Use
Rochelle Lampkin is a 49-year-old grandmother of 10 who used to picket in front of dope houses in her Detroit neighborhood, chanting "this is wrong, shut it down."
Today, she knowingly breaks the law by using marijuana to ease searing eye pain -- a side-effect of the multiple sclerosis that struck her more than 20 years ago. She must use a cane or walker to get around.
Lampkin is among the enthusiastic supporters of a proposal that will be on Michigan's fall ballot to legalize marijuana use by the terminally and seriously ill.
If voters approve it, Michigan would become the 13th state to legalize medical marijuana for the treatment of a host of health problems such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, hepatitis C and Alzheimer's disease. Sponsors say as many as 50,000 Michigan residents, including Lampkin, would qualify for the medical pot.
"Years ago, I was at an MS group meeting and someone suggested I try marijuana because it can help with the pain and the eye problems," Lampkin recalled. "I said: 'I'm not doing that. It's dope.'"
But the flare-ups of optic neuritis convinced her to change her mind about four years ago.
"You have enough pain, you'll try anything," she said. "Somebody gave me a marijuana cigarette and I puffed on it a couple times and got relief from the pain behind my eyes. I was shocked that it worked."
But she didn't like the smell or the coughing that came from smoking a joint. So today, she uses illegally obtained marijuana to make a tea that brings her relief.
Pot Still Illegal in Feds' Eyes
Michigan, with its scheduled Nov. 4 vote, is at the forefront of the national debate that has percolated since 1996, when California voters approved medical marijuana.
U.S. law classifies marijuana, like heroin and LSD, as a Schedule I controlled substance. That means it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration regards medical marijuana users, even in states that have approved its use, as lawbreakers. And in 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state laws approving medical marijuana don't bring with them immunity from federal prosecution.
But as a practical matter the experience in other states shows that medical marijuana users who follow the state law are not legally hassled, according to the spokeswoman for the Michigan group backing the ballot proposal.
"Ninety-nine percent of drug laws are enforced by state law enforcement agencies. And in states with medical marijuana laws, as long as the person is conforming with state law ( such as limiting the amount of marijuana a person can possess ), there are virtually no arrests," said Dianne Byrum of Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care, which collected a half-million petition signatures.
"It's been highly successful in those states. The sky is not falling."
Michigan's law enforcement community overwhelmingly opposes the ballot proposal.
"It's not a good idea and most practicing physicians who work in pain management know there are better and more effective medicines to deal with the issue rather than using marijuana," said Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard.
He said he believes the true agenda of those backing the Michigan ballot proposal is to legalize marijuana for everyone.
"This is the only nose under the tent that has resonance with citizens because everyone wants to help relieve the pain and suffering of individuals, including those of us in law enforcement," he said. "But this is a guise to advance the process of legalization."
A poll of 600 voters in mid-March, conducted by Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group, found that two-thirds favored it.
2 Doctors Take Different Sides
The medical establishment isn't of a single mind on the effectiveness of marijuana as medicine.
Dr. George Wagoner, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist from Manistee, is a believer.
Beverly, his wife of 51 years, died in July of ovarian cancer. She developed intense nausea from chemotherapy, and anti-nausea drugs didn't help much.
"One drug cost $46.20 a pill and didn't help," he said. "Another made her hallucinate so she refused to take it."
Wagoner told some friends that he knew marijuana could help, but he didn't know where to get it. A short time later one gave him a half-ounce of marijuana.
"She took two puffs and said, 'It's gone. My nausea is gone,'" he said.
Wagoner is angry he had to break the law to comfort his wife.
"It's legal to dispense drugs like morphine and Demerol but it's not legal to dispense marijuana, which has such a beneficial effect for some people who are desperate and in terrible trouble. I think that's outrageous," he said.
Dr. Thomas George takes a different view. He's a state senator who spent five years as medical director for Hospice of Greater Kalamazoo, which provides care for terminally ill people.
"The ballot proposal is unnecessary because we already have legal medical marijuana in pill form," he said
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does allow the use of two pills that are derivatives of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and it is considering approval of a spray.
George said smoked marijuana carries too many health risks and its effects don't last long enough.
"Take glaucoma as an example," he said. "If you have elevated pressure in the eyeballs, you need medicine that lasts 24 hours, and smoking a joint once in a while doesn't work."
Lynn Allen, a 51-year-old Williamston man who is a hemophiliac and contracted HIV/AIDS through blood work, said the pills don't live up to their billing.
"I have pain, lack of appetite and weight loss -- those are my three biggies," said Allen, a married father of two. He is confined to a wheelchair and can't work because he lacks stamina.
"I'm going through $600 worth of Marinol each month and it has real drawbacks, including that it can take hours to kick in," he said.
Allen says he hasn't used marijuana since his college days but would be eager to try it again if the ballot proposal succeeds.
"I think the referendum is an opportunity for people to help others who are in very desperate straits, people with cancer and very debilitating illnesses," he said.
The Michigan State Medical Society has a longstanding policy of opposition to medical marijuana, although it does support further research to determine its medicinal value.
But it has not yet taken an official position on the November ballot proposal.
David Fox, spokesman for the 15,000-member doctors' group, said physicians will decide whether to endorse or oppose the initiative at the annual meeting of the 400-member House of Delegates on May 4 in Dearborn.
Backers of medical marijuana got a big boost in February when the American College of Physicians, which represents 124,000 internal medicine specialists, issued a position paper that calls for expanded research into the potential therapeutic role of marijuana, noting that various medical "reports suggest numerous potential medical uses for marijuana."
The prominent group recommended marijuana be reclassified by the federal government to make that research possible, and said doctors who prescribe it and patients who use it shouldn't be subject to federal prosecution in states that where it is legal.
5 Mich. Cities OK Medical Pot
A campaign financial report shows the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care spent more than $1.1 million through March.
Virtually all of the money came from the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., the nation's largest marijuana reform organization with 21,000 members. It has successfully championed medical marijuana measures in other states and in general favors decriminalizing its use.
Byrum, a former state legislator, noted that since 2004, five Michigan cities have passed largely symbolic ordinances to allow medical marijuana: Detroit, Ferndale, Ann Arbor, Flint and Traverse City.
"We believe it's good public policy and studies show that in states that have this law it's basically been a non-issue for law enforcement and has no impact on teen drug use," she said.
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WHERE IT'S LEGAL
About 62 million people live in the 12 states that have adopted laws since 1996 to allow seriously ill people to use marijuana to lessen their suffering.
1996: California and Washington
1999: Alaska and Maine
2000: Colorado, Hawaii and Nevada
2004: Montana and Vermont
2006: Rhode Island
2007: New Mexico
Source: Marijuana Policy Project
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Should marijuana be legally available to the seriously ill, to everyone, or to no one? Vote and comment at detnews.com/cybersurveys.
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PROPOSAL AT A GLANCE
Some highlights of the ballot initiative that Michigan voters will decide in November:
* Terminally and seriously ill patients would be able to use marijuana if a doctor certified that the drug could ease their pain and suffering.
* A doctor who recommended marijuana to a patient would not be subject to arrest, prosecution or any professional penalties.
* Patients would be issued state ID cards so law enforcement personnel could easily see they are legal medical marijuana users.
* An individual covered by the proposed law could legally possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana or cultivate up to 12 plants in an enclosed, locked facility.
* Patients would be prohibited from using marijuana in public or to operate a car or machinery under the influence of the drug.
* Michigan's ballot proposal is silent about where a patient would obtain marijuana, but the state would not play a role. More than 200 dispensaries distribute marijuana in California, where federal agents have raided dozens that it says are fronts for illegal drug sales.
* If approved by voters, patients who use medical marijuana would still be guilty of breaking the law in the eyes of federal law enforcement agencies.
The proposal on Michigan's fall ballot would permit the use of marijuana by people with "debilitating" medical conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's disease, nail patella, and chronic diseases or their treatments that produce wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures or severe muscle spasms such as those caused by multiple sclerosis.
Newshawk: Opposition's Lying Ad http://stoparrestingpatients.org/video.html
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Pubdate: Tue, 29 Apr 2008
Source: Detroit News (MI)
Page: Front Page, Top Half of Page
Copyright: 2008, The Detroit News
Author: Charlie Cain, Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Note: The photos shown at the Webpage were printed
Cited: Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care http://stoparrestingpatients.org/