Ferndale, MI ballot seeks approval of medicinal pot

August 23, 2005

Christy Strawser, Daily Tribune (MI)

Legalizing medical marijuana is officially on the city's November ballot, which means residents have 12 weeks to decide whether to become the third Michigan city where smoking pot could ease serious illness.

Ferndale's city clerk certified petitions submitted by 19-year-old resident Donal O'Leary III last week and Ferndale City Council took no action at its Monday meeting which effectively puts the issue on the ballot.

No matter which way the scale tips, Ferndale Police Chief Michael Kitchen vowed to disregard the measure that would rank Ferndale with Detroit and Ann Arbor, which both approved similar measures last year.

"It's always illegal," said Kitchen, adding that no matter what a city ordinance says, state and federal laws make it illegal to smoke marijuana. "If the ordinance passes and we get a case, we would just charge under state law."

Anyone caught with a marijuana cigarette under state law faces 93 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

But the real importance of the ballot issue, according to Kitchen, is the support marijuana legalization activists could garner by the vote. The chief said that medical marijuana isn't about helping cancer patients, it's a thinly veiled way to open the door to full legalization.

For that reason, he plans to get the word out against the ballot initiative.

"The dope today really is addictive and dangerous; it's not

like the '70s," Kitchen said. "This is some real powerful stuff. It's dangerous; inhaling smoke of any kind is not a good thing. Medical marijuana is a myth."

The medical effects of smoking marijuana vs. taking it in a pill are not known, said Dr. Decker, the chief of hematology and oncology at William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.

Decker said he prescribes the legal marijuana pill Maritol to people in the last stages of cancer who need it to build up an appetite and battle nausea. Maritol can make a terminal patient's last days easier and more peaceful, Decker said.

"Marijuana does two things: it does prevent nausea and vomiting and stimulates appetite," said Decker, adding that there are other drugs that can do the same thing and do not contain marijuana.

Decker said he usually starts patients on a different anti-nausea or appetite stimulant drug, but if nothing else works, he prescribes Maritol.

"There are other drugs that usually work better, but for some patients, a small number, marijuana works best," the doctor said.

Loss of appetite and nausea are serious side effect of advanced cancer, Decker said. In fact, many times people die from the side effects of wasting away.

Some people, especially older patients, won't take Maritol because they don't like the "funny feeling" they get from it, the doctor said.

The New England Journal of Medicine and the American Nurses Association support legalizing marijuana for medical use.

O'Leary, a University of Michigan student, has worked with Tim Beck, who successfully passed a medical marijuana initiative in Detroit last year. O'Leary is chairman of the Ferndale Coalition for Compassionate Care.

O'Leary has argued that a local medical marijuana ordinance would allow police to ignore medical marijuana users even though state law prohibits any marijuana use.

Kitchen said he has no plans to turn a blind eye to any marijuana use, even if city ordinance allows it.

"It's a thinly veiled canard to the legalization effort," Kitchen said. "If they think they're kidding anyone, they're crazy. It preys on people's kindness and compassion to open the door for decriminalization."



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