Ferndale to vote on medical marijuana

November 02, 2005

Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press

She's a Ferndale soccer mom.


Sherry Wells, 59, is the single mother of a sports-and-drama-loving 14-year-old daughter. She's also a lawyer, and one who hardly ever drinks alcohol.


Pollsters would expect her to say no to drugs and to vote a vehement "No!" on Tuesday, when Ferndale and Traverse City get a chance to do what Detroit and Ann Arbor did last year: allow the medical use of marijuana.


The same change has passed in 10 states, but not Michigan. So here, it flies in the face of state laws banning marijuana possession.


Police, including Ferndale Chief Michael Kitchen, have pledged to ignore the ordinance and keep arresting anyone found with the drug.


But proponents, including a group called the Ferndale Coalition for Compassionate Care, led by University of Michigan sophomore Donal O'Leary III, and supported by a Ferndale city councilman, say the experience in Detroit, Ann Arbor and elsewhere sends a message that police can't ignore what their communities want.


Last month, his group mailed a flyer to Ferndale voters that includes endorsements -- used in similar campaigns around the country -- by talk show host Montel Williams and former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders.


Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said his city's ordinance won by a landslide a year ago.


"I voted for it myself. I don't think you can deny anybody something when they're in pain. The larger point is that folks in Lansing need to hear the message" of Americans who want marijuana laws eased, he said Wednesday.


Advocates say those with serious illnesses need marijuana to treat pain, nausea, loss of appetite and other symptoms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and other conditions. But law enforcement officials say that no matter how sick people may be, if they buy marijuana in Michigan, they're breaking state and federal laws, risking arrest and jail time.


Even fans of legalization don't deny that. Local communities "can't supercede state law," said Mike Segesta, an Eastpointe lawyer who helped write Detroit's ordinance and Ferndale's Proposal D.


Passing the ordinances sends a confusing message to young people, telling them that some street drugs are OK, said Deputy Oakland County Prosecutor Jim Halushka.


Last year, he campaigned against Detroit's ordinance. This fall, "Our message stays the same," he said Wednesday. Halushka, the father of a 10-year-old daughter, said approving medical marijuana is a big step toward full legalization. That means it's "a definite threat to children," he said.


University of Michigan researcher Lloyd Johnston, a national authority on youth drug use, said Wednesday there is no evidence suggesting that easing laws on medical marijuana use has affected youth drug-taking behavior, "but there is really very little research on the subject."Wells said she has talked to her daughter about drugs.


"I told her that getting high on life" was better than using mind-altering substances.


Still, Wells said that despite some reservations, she would vote yes.

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