Hearing set on medical pot use

November 26, 2006

Art Aisner, Ann Arbor News (MI)

Proponents of medical marijuana in Michigan are gearing up for their cause's most significant initiative in the state in decades.

The Government Operations Committee of the Michigan State House on Tuesday will host a hearing in Lansing on House Bill 5470, which would allow marijuana use under a doctor's supervision.

Speakers will include Penny Bacchiochi, a Republican member of the Connecticut state legislature, and Don Murphy, a former state legislator from Maryland who now heads the Republicans for Compassionate Access.

Testimonials from patients are scheduled as well, including Florida stockbroker Irvin Rosenfeld, who according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is one of five surviving patients still receiving medical marijuana from the federal government as part of a program that was closed to new patients in 1992. Cancer and multiple sclerosis patients from Kalamazoo and Detroit are scheduled to speak and hundreds of activists are expected to attend. The committee will also hear from opponents, though no organizations have begun lobbying against the bill, officials said.

"This is a real important day for our continued progress,'' said Chuck Ream, a Scio Township trustee who in 2004 spearheaded a ballot measure decriminalizing marijuana use when recommended by a physician. It passed with 74 percent of the vote in Ann Arbor. Voters in Detroit, Ferndale and Traverse City passed similar laws, and the issue will appear on the ballot in Flint in February.

A hearing on the bill, co-sponsored by seven Democrats (including Chris Kolb, D-Ann Arbor) and lone Republican Leon Drolet, R-Macomb Twp., follows Election Day setbacks on similar statewide ballot proposals in Colorado, South Dakota and Nevada. Those defeats have in turn raised the national profile of efforts in Michigan, Ream said.

"It's very important for the movement to have a stronghold in the Midwest because so far it's only been adopted predominantly on the West Coast, and it needs something to continue some momentum,'' Ream said.

If passed, the law would put Michigan with 11 other states in protecting from arrest and possibly jail seriously ill patients who use marijuana with their physician's recommendation.

Tuesday's hearing may have a lot to do with whether the issue ever comes up for a vote.

Drolet, chairman of the Government Operations Committee, said he hadn't talked to committee members about sending the legislation to the House floor, but intended at least to give it a formal hearing.



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