Detroit to vote on medical marijuana

July 21, 2004

Eartha Melzer, Pride Source

On August 3rd voters in Detroit will vote on a ballot measure that would exempt medical marijuana users from the city ordinance which makes marijuana possession a crime. Although marijuana possession and use would remain illegal under state and federal law, the initiative, sponsored by the Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care, intends to provide a greater level of safety to medical marijuana users by removing one layer of law enforcement. According to the coalition, a large portion of those arrested on marijuana charges are arrested by the city police.

Nine states: California, Alaska, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Maine have legalized the medical use of marijuana.

In the state of Maryland, medicinal marijuana users face fines but no jail time.

The issue of medical marijuana hits home in the LGBT community, says Bruce Mirken, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, 'The gay community has been most effected by AIDS and many AIDS patients have found marijuana helpful in controlling the appetite loss, nausea and pain associated with the disease.'

It becomes personal, Mirken said, 'Because this is literally about the lives of friends.'

Peter McWilliams, bestselling author of 'Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do: the Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in America' used marijuana to control the nausea he experienced while taking AIDS drugs. For McWilliams, marijuana was the only treatment that could control his nausea. McWilliams was arrested for possession of marijuana in Wayne County and died while appealing his possession as a medical necessity.

The Detroit initiative has been endorsed by Congressman John Conyers, City Council President Maryann Mahaffey, City Councilwoman Joann Watson, State Senator Burton Leland, the Detroit Free Press and the Metro Detroit Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Polls show a high level of support for legalizing medical marijuana. A 1996 national opinion poll sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union found that 85% of people surveyed favor the idea of making marijuana legally available when it has been proven effective for treating a given problem.

Religious groups have also begun to enter the discussion of medical marijuana. The General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Assembly passed a Statement of Conscience in 2002 recognizing the difference between drug use, and abuse and addiction, and recommending a system of regulated medical access to marijuana.

Citing ethical responsibilities to care for the suffering, a coalition of religious groups including the United Methodist Church, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Progressive National Baptist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalists recently lobbied Congress to adopt the Hinchey amendment. This amendment would have denied federal funds for criminal cases against marijuana users and providers in states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Last week Congress voted down the Hinchey amendment.

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