Pubdate: Sun, 22 Mar 2009
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2009 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Tim Jones,  Tribune Newspapers
Cited: Michigan Medical Marijuana Association
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Michigan Is 15th State to Allow Pot for Some People

PAW PAW, Mich. - At first glance they look like old pals, maybe a
bunch from the Rotary Club leisurely gabbing away over the hamburger
special, making the waitress work overtime for her tip.

But these guys are different. Their eyes, their fidgeting and their
restlessness betray a shared bond of chronic pain, sleepless nights,
depression and a reliance on heavy-duty prescription drugs. Around
this lunchtime table, they talk about the only thing that gives them a
measure of peace, the only thing that, for perhaps a few hours, sets
them free: marijuana.

They've been smoking or eating marijuana for years -- privately and
illegally. And now, because Michigan voters approved marijuana use for
the treatment of certain serious maladies, Bob White soon will be able
to get himself together in his Three Rivers home "without having to
draw the shades."

Legalized medical marijuana is about to make its debut in Michigan,
which becomes the 13th state to embrace the controversial pain
treatment. In a vote last November, 63 percent of the state's voters
said yes to medical marijuana.

"This shows that, bottom line, medical use of marijuana is not very
controversial with the public," said Wendy Chapkis, co-author of
Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine. "Politicians are afraid to
look soft on drugs, but the public understands that cannabis is not a
problem for medical use," Chapkis said.

Some police disagree, and so do many politicians.

George Basar, chief of police in Howell and president of the Michigan
Association of Chiefs of Police, predicts the law will ignite
widespread marijuana abuse.

"You can call it medical marijuana, but this is the nose under the
tent to the legalization of marijuana," he said. "My biggest fear is
large, sophisticated growing operations and, eventually, storefront
operations, which will lead to narcotics robberies."

But the move to legalize medical marijuana appears to be gaining

In the wake of the Michigan vote, legislatures in other states,
including Illinois, Minnesota and New Jersey, are advancing bills to
legalize the medical use of marijuana, and Michigan will be watched
carefully to see how it works for people like the men who recently sat
around a table at a west Michigan diner.

There is no sense of euphoria among the men, each weary from grinding
pain. Their maladies include cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, neck, back
and spinal problems, nerve disorders, depression and sleep apnea, for
which they take a cabinet full of prescription painkillers and other
medications. Marijuana provides only temporary relief. For them,
marijuana is not the ticket to a better life, but to a temporarily
less difficult one.

Some, like bleary-eyed Bill Kelly, who grew up in a conservative
family, came to it apprehensively. Kelly, 26, suffers from nerve
disorders and depression. His foot went numb over lunch.

"It got to the point where my psychiatrist was my drug dealer," said
Kelly, who said a turning point for him was when his doctor prescribed
anti-psychotic drugs "and all I saw was red and green colors."
Technically, medical marijuana became legal in Michigan in December, a
month after the public vote. The law takes full effect in April, when
doctors begin receiving applications from patients seeking
authorization to use marijuana for illnesses. Once they receive cards
authorizing marijuana use, patients can grow their own -- up to 12
plants -- or designate a "caregiver" who will grow marijuana for them.
Unlike California, there will be no public dispensaries that sell marijuana.

But there are legal holes and inconsistencies in the law that, in many
ways, will likely preserve the underground nature of marijuana use.

Patients can legally buy marijuana on the street, but sellers can be
prosecuted. Although patients can grow their own plants, they cannot
legally obtain the seeds to grow them. Medical doctors are not
required to participate.

And, despite the imprimatur of legality from the state of Michigan,
there is nothing in the law to protect medical marijuana patients from
being dismissed by their employer for using the drug.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake