Pubdate: Sun, 23 Nov 2008
Source: Battle Creek Enquirer (MI)
Copyright: 2008 Battle Creek Enquirer
Author: Nick Schirripa, The Enquirer
Referenced: The Michigan Medical Marijuana Act
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


After voters' approval on Nov. 4, Michigan now will have legalized 
marijuana for medical use. But despite its medical label and popular 
support, medical marijuana has drawn the ire of many critics.

Supporters say the medical value of marijuana justifies its legality 
- -- weed is an effective tool for people trying to cope with serious 
diseases and pain -- and smoking the drug does not lead to abuse of 
other drugs, illicit, legal or prescription.

Opponents claim the medical label is a ruse and there is an imminent 
danger of widespread abuse, especially by kids who may be confused by 
marijuana's medical status.

Relax and Medicate

"Timothy," a Battle Creek resident in his 30s who spoke to the 
Enquirer on the condition of anonymity, said he started smoking 
marijuana in high school.

"Being high, it's a kind of relaxation, but like with anything, if 
you do too much, it's intensified. I always used it as a relaxation 
tool, like drinking a beer after work," he said. "The first time, it 
was like I didn't feel much. I was curious, plus it's also a kind of 
the mystery of it, the forbidden fruit idea."

Timothy's use peaked in college when he smoked weed once or twice a 
day, but it tapered quickly to occasional use. Along with his 
experiences with marijuana comes Timothy's belief that pot is not a 
gateway drug. People who move onto harder drugs -- cocaine, 
methamphetamine, heroin -- would have done so regardless of which 
drugs they started with.

"It wasn't a gateway drug for me. If you want to call anything a 
gateway drug, why not call tobacco a gateway drug? Why don't we call 
beer a gateway drug? Those are the first things most people try," he 
said. "I don't see marijuana use leading to cocaine use as a highly 
reasonable conclusion. I don't see the guy who wants to eat pizza and 
play video games as the kind of guy who wants to get all jazzed up on 
a stimulant."

Kathy Clark, 56, said she and her husband, Dan, 60, have been growing 
marijuana for the past six years because smoking pot helps with Dan's 

The couple recently moved from Battle Creek to North Carolina, Kathy 
Clark said. The police discovered the couple's four marijuana plants 
after an electrical fire in May. The Clarks spent 14 days in jail, 
and officials with the Mecklenburg County district attorney's office 
said they are facing a maximum of 49 months in prison if convicted on 
charges including possession of and manufacturing marijuana and paraphernalia.

Still, Clark said there is a medical value to the drug.

"Dan's tried a lot of different medicines from different doctors," 
she said. "When he gets home from work, his hands hurt really bad. 
He'll sit down and smoke a joint and the pain eases. I wouldn't say 
it goes away, but anything that would help anybody in pain as far as 
I'm concerned shouldn't be illegal."

Dan Clark declined to be interviewed for this story.

Dianne Byrum is a partner with East Lansing-based Byrum & Fisk 
Advocacy Communications and the spokeswoman for the Michigan 
Coalition for Compassionate Care, the group supporting the ballot initiative.

Byrum said the change in the law limits legal marijuana to private 
use for medical purposes, but it doesn't change existing drug laws.

"This is a very narrow carve-out for limited use of medical 
marijuana," she said. Under the proposed law, medical marijuana 
abusers would lose their privileges and face criminal penalties.

Byrum said she is not concerned that legalizing marijuana for medical 
use will increase abuse rates.

"Teen marijuana use has declined in all states that have medical 
marijuana laws," she said.

The Michigan law, unlike California's voter-approved Proposition 215, 
would require patient registry and annual reports to the state, 
informing state regulators which doctors are recommending marijuana 
for what diseases and the number of patients who are using medical marijuana.

Proposition 215

In 1996, California voters legalized medical marijuana, permitting 
seriously ill residents to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

Dale Gieringer, California state coordinator for the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), helped write 
Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in California.

Part of the problem in California is the law didn't establish a 
production and distribution system, Gieringer said. It was left up to 
the state and federal governments to decide those terms, but the 
federal government has not changed laws that make marijuana illegal 
for any purpose.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, there is no 
state regulation or standard for cultivation and distribution of 
medical marijuana. California leaves the establishment of any 
guidelines to local jurisdictions, which can widely vary.

It's been more than a decade since the law was passed, and officials 
say there seems to be a lot of confusion about contradicting federal 
laws, state law and local laws. Despite the California medical 
marijuana law, federal agents still enforce federal laws prohibiting 
marijuana use and distribution, regardless of local exceptions.

According to Gieringer, law enforcement officials and politicians 
don't want to be seen as insensitive to sick people by going after 
the medical marijuana crowd in California, but the federal Drug 
Enforcement Administration has taken a different tack.

DEA officials say large-scale drug traffickers hide behind the 
California law and avoid prosecution through false medical marijuana 
claims, and the confusion between state and federal laws make 
prosecution of many other cases difficult.

According to the NORML, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, 
Nevada, Oregon and Washington have legalized medical marijuana. 
Maryland passed a medical marijuana affirmative defense law in 2003, 
reducing the penalties for people using marijuana for medical reasons.

The Michigan law allows each registered medical marijuana user to 
have up to 12 plants at any time. Users can appoint someone as a 
primary caregiver to grow the plants for them. Under the act, 
caregivers also would have to be registered with the state and could 
be appointed as primary caregivers for no more than five registered 
users, allowing them to grow up to 60 plants at a time.

According to law enforcement officials and legalization supporters, 
one plant can produce between one pound and five pounds of smokeable 
material; one pound of marijuana can produce 960 to 1,920 joints.

Dope Is Not Medicine

Scott Burns, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control 
Policy, said the new Michigan law is "about dope. It's not about medicine."

"If it was about medicine, it would have doctors who were standing up 
talking about the efficacy smoking this weed," he said. "If this was 
about medicine, you wouldn't have the American Medical Association, 
the American Glaucoma Association and anybody with an MD who is in 
the mainstream of medicinal thought opposed to this. The reason that 
these entities and associations don't support it is because any 
doctor worth his or her salt will tell you there are hundreds of 
other medicines now much, much better at dealing with nausea and wasting."

Burns said it's ridiculous to think the influx of all this marijuana 
into Michigan is not going to get into the hands of more young 
people, and there likely will be an increase in violence and crime. 
There are an estimated 20 million drug users in the United States, 
Burns said, and about 70 percent, or 14 million of those people are 
using marijuana. Another 6 million people abuse prescription drugs.

"More young people are in treatment for marijuana addiction than for 
all other drugs combined," Burns said. "This is not the ditch weed of 
the '60s and '70s with 1 percent or 2 percent THC. Now, THC content 
averages 10 percent across the nation, and it's as high as 30 percent 
THC coming from Canada, which isn't too far from here. It's a 
different drug. They should call it marijuana 2.0."

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the main active chemical in 
marijuana. When marijuana is smoked, THC passes from the lungs into 
the bloodstream, which delivers the chemical to the brain and other organs.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, THC affects 
specific sites in the brain, called cannabinoid receptors, and sets 
off a series of cellular reactions leading to the high. The highest 
density of cannabinoid receptors are found in parts of the brain that 
influence pleasure, memory, thoughts, concentration, sensory and time 
perception, and coordinated movement.

Kids also are starting to smoke marijuana at younger ages. Burns said 
first-time marijuana users were in their late teens or early 20s a 
couple decades ago, but now the average initiation age is between 11 
and 13 years old.

Battle Creek Police Chief David Headings said the law enforcement 
community is concerned about the legalization of marijuana, "a 
mind-altering drug."

"We look at what our drug users do today. Very few of them start off 
on crack or heroin or any of the hard drugs without using marijuana 
first. It's a gateway drug," he said. "Smoking marijuana is a very 
inefficient way of putting a drug into your system and is more 
harmful than smoking cigarettes."

Suzanne Horsfall, director of the Battle Creek-based Substance Abuse 
Council, said legalizing marijuana for medical use sends a mixed 
message to kids.

"There's a perception of 'It's medicine and can't harm you,' which is 
wrong," she said. "The fact is, it is a gateway drug, and if you're 
legalizing it in any way, we're sending a mixed message."

Horsfall said there isn't broad local data available to study the 
prevalence of marijuana use among youth, but that doesn't mean it's 
not happening in Calhoun County.

"We know the kids are smoking weed, anecdotally and from other 
people," she said. "We do know that medicine abuse is going up 
nationally, and that's because kids think it's safe."

With medical marijuana legalized, Horsfall said abuse will increase 
because of an illusion of safety.

Translation: If it comes from a doctor to make sick people well, it 
can't be dangerous, right?

"Kids are not making the connection, no one's really talking to them 
about medicine abuse and there's a lot of lack of knowledge that this 
is happening," Horsfall said. "There is a direct correlation between 
the perception of danger and the level of abuse. If there is a 
perception that a medicine is dangerous, abuse goes down."

Horsfall pointed to a study that revealed American teenage marijuana 
use has fallen by 39 percent since 1977. But by comparison, a recent 
Health Canada poll showed that since Canadian officials have begun to 
discuss decriminalizing marijuana, use by teens in Canada has climbed 
to its highest level in 25 years.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia 
University found that teenagers who smoke marijuana are 85 times more 
likely to use cocaine than those who do not. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake