Marijuana bill snuffed out

November 28, 2006

Chris Andrews, Lansing State Journal

Irvin Rosenfeld is a willing poster child for medical marijuana.

The Florida stockbroker suffers from a rare and painful disease called multiple congenital cartilaginous exostosis. He has received medical marijuana from the U.S. government since 1982, although the program was closed to new patients 10 years later.

Rosenfeld thinks he would have died or at least been incapacitated were it not for the 10 or so marijuana cigarettes he smokes daily.

"I'm a very productive member of society because I have the right medication," Rosenfeld told the state House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday. "There is no need for prosecuting people who are sick."

He testified at a hearing on legislation that would allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana legally to ease their suffering.

The committee took no action, however, and the bill will die at the end of the year when this legislative session ends. Rep. Leon Drolet, the committee's chairman, said it will probably take a petition drive to move the issue forward.

In a separate action, a petition drive to allow recreational or medicinal use of marijuana on private property is moving forward. Organizers hope to have it on the November 2008 ballot.

Eleven states permit use of marijuana for medical purposes. Federal laws prohibit marijuana possession, but state and local authorities typically enforce state laws. In Michigan, Detroit, Ferndale, Ann Arbor and Traverse City have enacted ordinances permitting use of marijuana for medical purposes.

State Rep. Fulton Sheen said he believes such a law would do more harm than good. Sheen said his brother, who died of AIDS, used marijuana to help relieve the nausea. He said he accepted that, and doesn't believe police would prosecute under such circumstances. But he said that once a law was passed, there would likely be continuous efforts to expand it. "I'm tired of opening doors to let the water start coming in."

However, Laura Barber of Traverse City said she and her husband both were charged with drug possession for the marijuana her husband used to alleviate pain from multiple sclerosis and Gulf War syndrome. Their situation led to voter approval of medical marijuana there.

Connecticut state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, a Republican, said she agonized over the issue when her husband was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer 25 years ago. A doctor pulled her aside and said she needed to buy marijuana.

"I hadn't smoked marijuana, I had never done drugs, I knew I wanted a public career. It was a terrifying moment for me," she told the committee. "But as I watched my husband basically die in front of me, I decided I would do it at any cost.

"For three years I went out and I bought pot for him, and I watched his remarkable recovery. Not that he recovered from the cancer, but he was able to eat, he was able to laugh, he was able to regain some quality of life," she told lawmakers.

Scott Burns, deputy director of the White House Office on National Drug Policy, urged lawmakers not to approve the legislation.

He said the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for determining which drugs are safe and opposes legalizing medical marijuana. Dangers from smoking marijuana outweigh any potential benefits and legalizing it in some circumstances could hurt efforts to reduce illegal drug use by young people, he said.

Contact Chris Andrews at 377-1054 or


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