Detroit to Vote on Medical Marijuana

July 15, 2004

David Runk, Associated Press

DETROIT - A vote on whether to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes in Detroit is seen by organizers of the ballot initiative as a stepping stone to rewriting the state's drug laws. 

The proposal would create an exception in the city code for patients who have a doctor's permission to use marijuana. If it passes, the effect would be largely symbolic, since it wouldn't affect state or federal laws that allow prosecution of those possessing or using marijuana.

The initiative's organizers still would count success as an important first step.

'Our supporters find it reprehensible that an individual that is under a doctor's care that has a legitimate, serious illness can be denied medicine that works for them,' said Timothy Beck, founder of Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care, which has sought to put the issue before voters for years.

The coalition collected the necessary signatures to get 'Proposal M' on the Aug. 3 primary ballot. If that proposal and a similar one in Ann Arbor to be voted on in November pass, Beck said his group plans to work with lawmakers to put the issue before the state Legislature or push for a statewide ballot initiative that would make the policy state law.

'It will be an inspiration,' Beck said. 'Others will be willing to support it. If not, then 2006 will be ripe for petition.'

But opponents of the Detroit ballot initiative have launched a campaign to educate people about marijuana use and its effects on the community in an attempt to encourage voters to reject the proposal.

Andre Johnson, program manager for the Partnership for a Drug-Free Detroit, said the ballot initiative is an attempt to move toward broader legalization of marijuana that could send the wrong message to young people about drug use.

'It's all a smoke screen. It is not about people who are ill or people who are sick,' Johnson said. 'They're not thinking about the youth. Our primary concern is protecting the youth and protecting quality of life.'

If the proposal passes, those in Detroit who use marijuana for medical purposes still could face prosecution.

Agencies such as the Michigan State Police and the Wayne County sheriff's department, which patrol within the city limits, wouldn't be bound by a change in the city code. A spokesman for state Attorney General Mike Cox said Michigan law still would allow any marijuana user to be prosecuted.

'In general, state law trumps local ordinances. This wouldn't affect current state law,' Stu Sandler said. 'County prosecutors are sworn officers of the state that need to uphold state law.'

Detroit police spokesman Derek Jones said medical marijuana users could face prosecution if they can't prove they have a prescription. He added that broader drug-enforcement efforts wouldn't be affected by a change in city code.

The question of whether states can legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

In June, the court said it will decide whether the federal government can prosecute sick people who smoke marijuana on the advice of a doctor. The case involves the Bush administration's appeal of a case it lost involving two California women who say marijuana is the only drug that eases chronic pain.

The case also affects Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state, which have similar medical marijuana laws. Vermont's medical marijuana law took effect July 1.

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