Pubdate: Sun, 16 Nov 2008
Source: Bay City Times, The (MI)
Copyright: 2008 The Bay City Times
Author: Crystal Mcmorris
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Hemp)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Michigan voters said yes to medical marijuana by a ratio of nearly

And while the law takes effect Dec. 4, details of how it will play out
remain hazy among doctors, law enforcement officials and state
residents who want to use the drug for medicinal purposes.

The state's Department of Community Health, through its county-level
health departments, has been designated to maintain a registry and
issue registration cards to patients and ''caregivers'' who will then
be legally allowed to have up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The law also
allows for patients and their caregivers to grow up to 12 plants, as
long as they grown them in an ''enclosed, locked facility.'' The
department has until April 4 to have the registry up and running.

But local officials, doctors and patients remain unsure how the law
will play out.

''All I know is what I read in the paper,'' said Dr. Howard Hurt,
medical director of the Bay County Health Department.

And while state law now makes marijuana legal for medicinal purposes,
federal law does not, leading to additional uncertainty in law

''If the law provides for people to do this, we're going to have to
allow people to do this,'' said Bay County Sheriff John E. Miller.
''But I can see how this would be open for abuse.''

Miller said that although federal law makes no exception to marijuana
for medical use, his deputies enforce state law. And ''the federal
prosecutor is busy enough that he's not going to charge somebody with
possession of marijuana.''

Bay City Police Chief Michael Cecchini was a member of the Phoenix
Police Department when Arizona voters made medical marijuana legal in
1996. He said he didn't notice a spike in problems associated with its

Cecchini is ''not in favor'' of any form of legalized marijuana,
however, because he feels it will ''compound societal problems.''

''Alcohol is a legal substance and we still have to deal with people
committing crimes while drunk on alcohol,'' he said. ''When we start
legalizing other drugs, I think that we're giving the government stamp
of approval, and more people will use it.''

Budding demand, hazy research

As chief medical director for the McLaren Visiting Nurse and hospice
services, Dr. Michael Parmer oversees Brian's House locations in Bay
City and Davison and similar facilities dedicated to making patients
comfortable in the last six months of their lives.

Parmer said he would be willing to write a letter for a terminally ill
patient, if asked, so that a person who turns to marijuana to
alleviate his symptoms can continue doing so without engaging in
criminal activity.

''I would not have a problem with writing that in the end stages of
life,'' Parmer said. ''But am I endorsing it? No.''

Parmer said patients are ''lining up for prescriptions'' for medical
marijuana, but that he can't provide them.

While the new law makes possession and use of marijuana legal for
patients with debilitating conditions, it doesn't allow doctors to
write prescriptions or patients to purchase packages of pot from their
local pharmacies.

Parmer said he doesn't support the legalization of marijuana, for
patients or anyone else.

''I don't have a bias about people's own beliefs,'' Parmer said.
''People can do whatever they want. But this law has opened up an
incredible can of worms. We have a law ... that makes it legal to
grow, possess and use it for medical indications, but there are no
medical indications actually approved by the FDA or any of the medical
boards, because there's no research that shows marijuana to be
medically beneficial.''

Parmer acknowledges there is anecdotal evidence the drug helps with
chronic pain, nausea and appetite. But he debates whether it controls
pain or masks it.

''It's a mind-altering substance,'' Parmer said. ''When people get
high, they may be more comfortable. It's kind of an escape rather than
true pain relief. It's altering their perception of pain.''

If patients at Brian's House choose to use marijuana, he won't oppose

''That would be their option,'' Parmer said. ''We would treat it the
same way we do tobacco - there's a  designated smoking area outside
the building.''

Kurt Miller, director of public relations for Bay Regional Medical
Center, said the hospital's only policy on the new law is that the
no-smoking policy for buildings and grounds will apply to marijuana as
well as cigarettes.

''We talked about this yesterday with our directors,'' Miller said on
Tuesday. ''Essentially it comes down to the physicians to make choices
with each of their patients.''

Advocates see growth industry

Michigan is the 13th state to allow medical use of marijuana. Three
cities - Flint, Traverse City and Ann Arbor - already have laws making
possession of small amounts a civil infraction.

Massachusetts voters on Nov. 4 approved the first statewide measure to
decriminalize marijuana, making the possession of an ounce or less a
civil infraction punishable by a $100 fine.

And Monday, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) proposed a bill
that would decriminalize possession of as much as 3.5 ounces of
marijuana across the country.

Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project with
offices in Las Vegas and Washington D.C., said the efforts in Michigan
and in Massachusetts demonstrate a ''sea change'' in public attitudes
about use of the drug for medical and recreational purposes.

''Last year an American was arrested on marijuana charges once every 36
seconds, which is more

for marijuana possession alone than for all violent crimes combined,''
Kampia said in a press release. ''Voters have loudly said, 'Enough!'
Marijuana prohibition is about to take its place next to alcohol
Prohibition on the ash heap of history.''

Medical use may just be the beginning, if marijuana advocates have
their way.

Everett Swift, a Hillman resident who helped put Proposal 1 on the
Michigan ballot, is executive director of an organization called
MIHEMP. That group is dedicated to educating the public - and
lawmakers - about industrial uses of hemp in ''manufacturing,
agriculture, biofuels and the positive effect it could have on the
Michigan economy.''

''We want Michigan to join the 15 other states that have told the
federal government to allow hemp production in the United States,''
Swift told The Times. ''We are the only industrialized nation in the
world that is not taking advantage of this resource.''

Swift notes the proposal passed in every county in Michigan, with 63
percent of the electorate approving.

''The large margin of victory only goes to show how out of touch the
Michigan Legislature and governor are with the people of Michigan,''
Swift said.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin