Medical marijuana faces big hurdles, such as rules for its use

December 07, 2006

Chris Jackett, Capitol News Service, South Bend Tribune (IN)

LANSING -- Rules for obtaining and using medical marijuana must be worked out before the House Government Operations Committee will consider legalization, Michigan lawmakers say.

Those concerns were addressed in a recent hearing by the committee on a bill by Rep. LaMar Lemmons III, D-Detroit, that would legalize marijuana use by patients with cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS or other chronic or debilitating diseases that produce wasting syndrome, seizures, severe pain, nausea or muscle spasms.

Irvin Rosenfeld, a stockbroker from Florida and medical marijuana user, said marijuana was used as a medicine in the U.S. from 1860 to 1937.

Under federal law, marijuana is illegal, but 11 states and many cities have approved its use since 2001. Michigan voters in Detroit, Ferndale, Traverse City and Ann Arbor approved measures in 2004 and 2005. Similar proposals are being considered in Kalamazoo and Flint.

If his bill dies this year, as expected, another representative will introduce it again in 2007 when Democrats have majority control, Lemmons said.

Patients who have used medical marijuana testified, including several who had been arrested for possession of marijuana despite a medicinal need.

Rosenfeld said he has been using government-approved medicinal marijuana since 1982, when he won a court case.

Despite having a rare disease that causes tumors on his bones, Rosenfeld said, he lives a fairly normal life. He credited the 11 ounces of marijuana that he smokes over the course of 25 days.

The University of Mississippi grows the drug for the federal government and ships it to the University of Miami, where Rosenfeld receives it.

The program stopped accepting applicants in 1991, with Rosenfeld and five other patients as the only ones remaining.

Rosenfeld said, "There's no need to be prosecuting people who are sick. To put someone sick behind bars, we have to let someone else out."

Besides smoking, methods for ingesting marijuana include vaporizing, liquidizing and mixing it into food or beverages. The alternative methods avoid harmful carcinogens from combustion.

Tim Beck, chair of the Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care, told the committee that marijuana offers benefits that current prescription drugs may not.

"No one ever died from an overdose of marijuana," Beck said. "With (painkillers like) OxyContin and Vicodin, it's one pill fits all."

Marijuana doses are easier to control, he added. The proposed bill doesn't address distribution.

"The bill decriminalizes it for patients, but doesn't address how a patient gets marijuana," said Rep. Jacob Hoogendyk, R-Portage, majority vice chair of the committee. "It would make it OK to have, but not to purchase."

Rep. Fulton Sheen, R-Plainwell, questioned the merit of the proposal because police often let off medical patients with a warning when found in possession.

"A person's condition affects what an officer does," Sheen said. "More times than not, they won't be arrested. Do we need to create a law for something already taking place?"

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled against national medical marijuana use.

Laura Ann Barber of Traverse City testified that she and her husband, a Gulf War veteran, were arrested in 2004 for marijuana possession. They fought the charges.

Marijuana-based protein shakes and balms allow her husband to improve his lifestyle so he can exercise again, Barber said.

"It's not an act of defiance; it's an act of quality of life," she added.

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