Medical pot: Petition drive can put issue where it belongs - with voters

June 10, 2007

EDITORIAL, Lansing State Journal (MI)

Six years ago, Michigan saw petition gatherers advocating a statewide vote on recreational use of marijuana. It was a bad idea at the time, as an LSJ editorial stated. It's still a bad idea, as Lansing-based pollster Ed Sarpolus affirmed in noting full legalization is still a no-go with state voters.

Medical use of marijuana is an entirely different matter, however. And, appropriately, a new petition drive has started to put before the Legislature, and probably the voters, the issue of legalizing medical use of cannabis.

Last week, organizers cleared one of the first hurdles - approval of the form of their petitions by the Board of State Canvassers. That still leaves advocates a long way from forcing the Legislature to consider the issue or, facing legislative rejection, getting voters to decide the question on the 2008 ballot.

Nevertheless, the usual critics are moving into position against the petition drive. The principal avenues of opposition are legal and medical.

Medical issues unresolved

The medical question is, indeed, cloudy. Dr. Kenneth Elmassian of the Michigan State Medical Society argues there are other pain-relief options to smoking marijuana.

Former state Rep. Dianne Byrum, speaking for petition advocates, says alternatives such as Marinol are not the same as marijuana and there are issues with dosages to provide pain relief.

The real question is not the chemical value inside marijuana, but whether smoking the plant has benefits that other delivery methods do not. Part of the problem, though, is that the federal War on Drugs crowd has made it almost impossible to do full-blown medical studies. You have to grow marijuana to study it, but that's a problem for the Drug Enforcement Administration and those on Capitol Hill who always know better for the rest of the country.

The obvious course, though, is to pursue research - research based on actual use. Petitioners in Michigan want to allow sufferers of certain diseases under strict medical advice the option to grow and use marijuana.

Political terrain shifting

That runs into the law enforcement crowd. Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth and Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III both issued worries and warnings to the LSJ about the marijuana petition. They would be right in the middle of the law enforcement mainstream with such attitudes.

Popular opinion is another story.

A dozen states have enacted some form of medical marijuana legalization. Just last week, the Connecticut Senate sent to the governor's desk a medical marijuana bill. And lawmakers in Rhode Island expressed confidence they could override a gubernatorial veto to reauthorize an expiring medical marijuana statute in that state.

Sarpolus, meanwhile, says medical use of marijuana has popular support here.

As for fears of Michigan setting up citizens for problems with a marijuana-obsessed federal government, consider this story out of California (which has legalized medical marijuana):

In late May, a federal jury convicted that state's "guru of ganja" (Ed Rosenthal) of three marijuana-related felonies. It was Rosenthal's second trial, and even the judge in the case deemed federal prosecutors to be involved in vindictive efforts against him.

Still, Rosenthal will not serve any more time for the convictions in a deal agreed to by federal prosecutors. Rosenthal has served one day - from a 2003 conviction, which the jury immediately renounced when it learned that it had been denied testimony that Rosenthal was acting for a medical marijuana program in Oakland.

Could the sentencing deal be evidence that even federal officials are looking around and discovering their fixation is not shared by the general public?

The next step in this process is easy: Advocates have to show they can gain enough petition support to get their day before the Legislature and, if necessary, the voters. Opponents can make their case that medical marijuana is a threat.

And the people of this state can decide for themselves.



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