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
"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
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.
Newshawk: Opposition's Lying Ad http://stoparrestingpatients.org/video.html
Pubdate: Tue, 29 Apr 2008
Source: Detroit News (MI)
Copyright: 2008, The Detroit News
Author: Charlie Cain, Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Cited: Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care