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Marijuana As Medicine


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Michigan Voters May Be Asked in November to Legalize Drug for Patients in Pain

Lynn Allen is in a great deal of pain. And he thinks marijuana would ease it.

The 51-year-old Williamston man was born with hemophilia and infected with HIV and hepatitis C more than 20 years ago.

His greatest pain comes from arthritis related to his hemophilia. He must use a wheel-chair to get around. He takes narcotics that help with pain, but they have side effects, including constipation and memory problems. Unless it's legal, he won't use marijuana.

"I had children in the home, and I didn't want to set a bad example for them," Allen said. "They've since gone off to college, but I just don't think it's a good idea to break the law."

Michigan voters will probably decide next November whether to allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana based on the recommendation of a physician.

Supporters have turned in nearly half a million petition signatures to the Secretary of State's Office - they need 304,000 valid signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

But opponents question the medicinal value of marijuana and the sincerity of the effort. Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth is among them.

"There's plenty of pain medication out there," Wriggelsworth said. "I don't think anybody's concern is about ill people. It's just a way for people who have a predisposition to use drugs to try to get them legalized."

Local Ordinances

Twelve states allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. In Michigan, five cities - Ann Arbor, Detroit, Ferndale, Flint and Traverse City - have ordinances to do so, although use and possession are illegal under both state and federal law.

Under the Michigan proposal, seriously ill patients could legally use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

The measure specifically lists treatment for such things as HIV, cancer and Alzheimer's, as well as for less specific "severe and chronic pain."

Patients would register with the state and have an ID card to help police know they have the right to use marijuana.

Those who are registered would have the right to grow up to 12 marijuana plants.

They could not be prosecuted for buying marijuana, although it would still be a crime for someone to sell it.

The medical community is divided on the issue. Supporters include the California, New York and Rhode Island medical societies, the American Public Health Association and the American Academy of HIV Medicine.

White House Against It

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy opposes it, as does the Michigan State Medical Society except in research.

Some Michigan residents use marijuana to help with pain despite the fact that it is against the law.

"You find it primarily used for people who are going through chemotherapy and have a difficult time keeping anything down, people with muscular pain such as multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, people who are in serious pain and that have life-threatening illnesses," said Dianne Byrum, a former legislator whose political consulting firm is leading the drive.

Byrum says other states with medical marijuana laws have seen up to one half of 1 percent of the population take advantage of the law. In Michigan, that would be about 50,000 people.

But Dr. Michael Chafty, a pain-management specialist who serves on the Michigan State Medical Society's board of directors, said more well-controlled studies are needed.

"Many of the people who think that marijuana is their only option don't understand the options that currently exist in pain management," he said. "There are a lot of other options that are very adequate, if not superior, to marijuana."

Lawmaker Opposed

In theory, the Legislature could enact the marijuana law, eliminating the need for sending it to the voters. But that's not likely to happen, said Senate Majority Floor Leader Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt.

"These folks are trying to pull the wool over people's eyes," Cropsey said. "They'll get a couple of very sympathetic examples out there, but when it comes right down to it, they are just plain trying to legalize marijuana eventually."



The prescription drug Marinol is a gelatin capsule with synthetic THC, the primary active ingredient in marijuana. Doctors prescribe it for nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients and to treat appetite loss in AIDS patients.

Proponents of legalized medical marijuana say Marinol is one treatment option, but it doesn't include all of the active ingredients of marijuana and can take longer to provide relief.


Acquiring marijuana for medical purposes isn't as simple as going to the pharmacy.

Registered patients could grow up to 12 marijuana plants, but would have to come up with a way to get the seeds.

Buying marijuana from a local dope dealer would be legal for the buyer, but not the seller.


The Web site for the initiative to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes is stoparrestingpatients.org.

The measure would:

Allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana for medical purposes with the recommendation of their doctor. The measure specifically lists treatment for such things as HIV, cancer and Alzheimer's, as well as for less specific "severe and chronic pain."

Set up a registry system with the state.

Allow those patients to grow up to 12 marijuana plants.

Protect caregivers from prosecution.

Source: Lansing Stae Journal (MI)
Copyright: 2007 Lansing State Journal
Contact: Lansing State Journal
Website: Lansing State Journal
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