Detroit voters can OK pot for pain

July 22, 2004

Marisol Bello, Detroit Free Press

Every other day, Rochelle Lampkin injects medication into her hip that is widely used to ease the chronic pain of multiple sclerosis.

But she said it's not enough to stop the blinding pressure around her eyes that feels as if her eyeballs will explode out of their sockets. And it doesn't end the crippling ache brought on by her MS that saps the energy from her arms and legs.

So Lampkin turns to a few puffs of a marijuana cigarette when she needs some extra relief.

'This affords me a better quality of life,' Lampkin, 45, said. 'I don't think anyone should be refused that.

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On Aug. 3, the battle between the rights of seriously ill patients and antidrug forces in Detroit could be settled -- barring almost certain legal challenges -- when voters decide whether to allow the use of medical marijuana. If it passes, Detroit would be the first city in the Midwest to pass such a law.

The Detroit City Council will hold a hearing today to debate the issue. And Lampkin said she plans to be there to make her case.

'I need to do whatever I can to help me,' said Lampkin, who has been smoking marijuana to battle her symptoms ever since she temporarily lost her eyesight five years ago.

Ann Arbor voters face a similar ballot proposal this November. If voters in both cities approve the measures, supporters say they will ask lawmakers in Lansing to take statewide action.

Antidrug activists worry that the medical marijuana push is the first step of a larger movement to legalize the drug.

'I feel there would be horrible unintended consequences if it went through under the guise of medical marijuana,' said Detroit City Councilwoman Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, one of the most vocal opponents. 'I think it would be hell for the city.'

Tinsley-Talabi said she hopes to introduce a resolution in the council next week opposing the Detroit initiative.

The proposal would not stop Wayne County Sheriff's deputies, Michigan State Police or federal agents from charging users in Detroit with marijuana possession.

U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins would not comment on the proposal Thursday, but his bosses in U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's office in Washington have legally challenged other states that have passed similar laws.

Nine states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington -- allow the legal use of medical marijuana.

One California case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices will decide whether the federal government can prosecute sick people who smoke marijuana on the advice of a doctor.

Those who oppose legalizing marijuana for medical purposes say it sends mixed messages, particularly to young people already inclined to think there is little danger in smoking pot.

They say a legal alternative exists in the form of Marinol, the only FDA-approved drug that contains a synthetic version of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol -- or THC -- the active ingredient in marijuana.

The other side argues that Marinol is too expensive, has too many side effects and is much more potent than a few puffs on a joint.

Advocates of medical marijuana say their fight should not be lumped into the war on drugs.

'It's not a drug issue; it's a health issue,' Lampkin said. 'People need to realize some drugs have a purpose. I want them to let us use it, not abuse it.'

The single mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 20 years ago. She said her legs become so weak and tired that she often has to walk with a cane or walker. Her disability keeps her from working a full-time job.

She said she smokes pot once or twice a week before she goes to bed, so that the pain will subside enough that she can fall asleep.

'I don't smoke this marijuana for recreation,' she said. 'I puff on it twice and go to bed. I'm not trying to be cool.'

Lampkin said she plans on keeping the routine, even if the ballot measure fails.

'It'll just turn me into a criminal,' she said. 'But the pain is unbearable. The pain could make you do anything. This is all I got left.'



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