Medical marijuana bill dies

November 28, 2006

Charlie Cain , Detroit News

LANSING -- A bill to allow people with "debilitating medical conditions" to legally use marijuana to ease their symptoms died in the Michigan Legislature on Tuesday, and backers say the issue will likely be left up to voters to decide.

Following an often emotional, 90-minute hearing before a state House committee, the panel broke without taking a vote. It was the first and only hearing on the legislation, introduced a year ago.

The inaction means the bill will have to be reintroduced in a new session in January.

Supporters of the legislation, many battling diseases, packed the standing-room-only hearing room wearing red buttons that said: "Stop arresting patients for medical marijuana."

The hearing attracted lawmakers from other states encouraging support of the bill.

Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, a Republican lawmaker from Connecticut, told members of the House Government Operations Committee that her husband was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer in 1982.

"I watched him waste away," she said.

In the final three years before his 1994 death, she illegally bought marijuana on the street for him. The drug didn't cure him but "he was able to laugh, able to regain a quality of life."

Eleven states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington -- have adopted laws to provide pot for patients with cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and other serious medical conditions.

Most laws were put on the books by a vote of the people, not legislative action.

Rep. Lamar Lemmons III, D-Detroit, the main sponsor of the bill, said he expects Michigan voters to be presented with the medical marijuana question in 2008.

Tuesday's action followed approval Monday by the Board of State Canvassers of the form of a legislative petition proposal that would make it legal for those 18 and older to use marijuana on private property. Those found using the drug in public would be guilty of a civil infraction punishable by a $50 fine.

The measure is proposed for the 2008 statewide ballot.

Scott Burns, the deputy White House drug czar, flew in from Washington to oppose the bill.

He said the Food and Drug Administration, which for the last century has had the role of testing and approving new medications, has determined that marijuana "does not meet existing standards of safety and efficacy for modern medication."

Burns said legalized marijuana would send a confusing signal to the nation's youth.

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