Some pot use will be legal in Detroit, but little else changes

August 04, 2004

Marisol Bello, Detroit Free Press

Detroit voters said yes to marijuana for medical purposes at the polls on Tuesday, and now, some are wondering how soon they can light up.

But before you do, there are a few things to know about the measure, which only changes the Detroit city code:

QUESTION: When does the new ordinance take effect?

ANSWER: The city's law department says the ballot initiative will take effect 30 days after the Wayne County Board of Canvassers certifies the results of the election, which could take at least another week.

Q: Does the proposal give pot smokers a free ride in Detroit?

A: No. Detroit residents voted to change the city code as it relates to the use of marijuana for medical purposes only.

It is still illegal in Detroit to drive under the influence of any controlled substance. And the ordinance does not affect state and federal law, which make the drug illegal.That means Detroit police and county, state and federal officers can still arrest anyone for marijuana possession.

Q: Most marijuana possession cases are handled by Detroit police who arrested people under the city ordinance. Will officers now start enforcing the state law?

A: Glen Woods, a spokesman for the Detroit Police Department, said officers will continue to enforce the laws as they always did. Anyone who has valid proof that they use marijuana as medicine probably will not be arrested, he said.

Q: What proof do you need to be exempt for medical marijuana?

A: The ordinance does not specify. Tim Beck, head of the Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care, the group that pushed for the ballot proposal, said those who use marijuana for medical purposes would need a doctor's letter that states they are under the care of a physician who recommends the use of marijuana for the relief of a specific illness.

Q: Who can prescribe medical marijuana?

A: No one. Federal and state law prohibit physicians from prescribing an illegal substance. The Detroit proposal allows licensed medical professionals -- ranging from physicians and dentists to veterinarians, marriage counselors and social workers -- to recommend medical marijuana. Beck said only health care professionals with a license to prescribe drugs can recommend marijuana.

Q: Will anyone challenge the proposal?

A: The city and state Attorney General's Office are reviewing the measure to see whether court action is needed. The city may consider going to court to clarify portions of the proposal.

Q: Is this the last we'll hear about medical marijuana?

A: No. Ann Arbor will vote on a proposal in November. Advocates say they also want state legislators to introduce a similar bill. If that fails, they will push for a statewide referendum.

Contact MARISOL BELLO at 313-222-6678 or

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