Sides prepare fight over medical marijuana bill in Michigan

February 26, 2004

Cecil Angel, Detroit Free Press

With roughly six months to go before Detroit voters weigh in on a ballot measure on whether to legalize the medical use of marijuana in the city, the issue is picking up steam.

Supporters have raised $30,000 in campaign funds and that number is steadily rising as donations pour in from across the country.

Some of the city's best-known names -- including U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, the mother of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, City Councilwomen Maryanne Mahaffey and JoAnn Watson and U.S. Rep.

John Conyers -- have endorsed the proposal, according to the Web site for the Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care, which sponsored the initiative.

Even so, 'we're not taking anything for granted,' Tim Beck, chairman of the group, said Thursday.

The proposal's staunchest opponent is the Partnership for a Drug-Free Detroit, an anti-drug agency that focuses on education to prevent drug abuse. The co-chair of the group is City Councilwoman Alberta Tinsley-Talabi.

'It's not what this city needs. It's not what this country needs,' Tinsley-Talabi said Thursday.

Today, members of the partnership and others are to meet in the mayor's office to develop a strategy to defeat the initiative, Tinsley-Talabi said.

If voters approve the measure at the polls in August, Detroit police would not be able to arrest anyone with marijuana who has a doctor's note saying there is a medical need for the drug.

The local ordinance would not prevent Wayne County Sheriff's Department deputies, the Michigan State Police or federal agents from arresting anyone with marijuana in Detroit, even if they have a doctor's note.

'We need to get the message out that this is about sick people,' Beck said. 'This is not about partying teenagers.'

A key reason for legalizing marijuana for medical use, he said, is that at least 200,000 people in Detroit don't have health insurance. Medical marijuana is a cheap and effective alternative to expensive pain medications, he said.

'We're not here to give drugs to kids,' Beck said. 'It's strictly medical.'

Next month, state Sen. Hansen Clarke is to introduce a bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana, Beck said. Clarke aide Kim Bowman said the senator is trying to get talk show host Montel Williams to come to Michigan for the formal announcement of the bill.

Williams uses marijuana for treatment of multiple slerosis.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free Detroit plans to counter the efforts of Beck and other supporters by campaigning on radio talk shows, television, town hall meetings and other means to let the public know the law change is too risky, Andre Johnson, program manager for the Partnership for a Drug-Free Detroit said.

Studies show that communities that have enacted medical marijuana laws have an increase in teens using the drug, he said.

'It's dangerous,' Johnson said.

Jacqueline Sledge, 49, who works with a social services agency in Detroit that works with teens, said she opposes the proposal.

'It's going to do everything but heal our children,' Sledge said. 'We already have alcohol legal and look where that has gotten us.'

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