Medical Marijuana Debate Rages on in Local Live Broadcast

Jacob Bell

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Shrill laughter by card-carrying medical marijuana users as well as concerns over the state's medical marijuana law emanated Monday night from the tiny studios of CMNtv, proving the issue of medical marijuana in Michigan remains as divisive as ever.

The law was the focus of the local access cable channel's third Michigan Town Hall Live program. The previous two shows focused on the state budget and the movie industry and Monday night's live broadcast proved the most robust yet, according to CMNtv's executive director H. Jay Wiencko Jr.

"Why did we do this? Because this law is an unsettled issue and that makes for good community television," Wiencko said.

About 25 audience members crammed into the the tiny studio on Souter Drive in Troy during the hourlong broadcast, moderated by attorney and Fox 2 legal analyst Charlie Langton and sponsored by the Oakland Press. Langton gave audience members the opportunity to voice their opinions and questions to a panel made up of local lawmakers, lawyers and advocates. About 10 viewers also called in, and more than five dozen comments appeared via Facebook, Twitter and email.

The panel included attorney Michael Komorn, board member of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association; state Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake; Charles Semchena, Royal Oak City Commissioner; J. Van Dyke, national director of the American Medical Marijuana Association; Mike Bosnic, Oakland County Commissioner from Clawson, and attorney and advocate Matthew Abel.

Those in favor of the law came out swinging hard and seemed to make up a majority of the studio audience and those who called in.

"There is no way you're gonna get a pound of marijuana off one plant. That is absolutely ludicrous," one angry caller said, responding to Semchena's statements that marijuana plants grow "as high as Christmas trees" and his assertion that the state law allows for too much yield by growers.

Semchena is a vocal opponent of the law, which continues to cause confusion among local governments that struggle to interpret it years after a majority of Michigan residents voted for it. Citing the federal ban, Royal Oak earlier this year banned the growing of medical marijuana within city limits even though Michigan law states that certified caregivers are allowed to grow up to 12 plants and distribute the drug to card-carrying medical marijuana patients.

"True medical need should be satisfied by this law, but there is a criminal component that's enhanced by this law," Semchena said.

Bosnic falls on the side of those who also are critical of the law, telling audience members that "the state law needs to be changed" in order to address many of the loopholes surrounding things like distribution and what constitutes actual medical need.

Bosnic expressed concern that doctors are now giving the green light to medical marijuana patients without much evidence that they have any real medical problems as outlined in the law.

"The law is open to a lot of interpretation," Bosnic said.

Royal Oak resident Sandra Wilkins seemed to validate some panelists' concerns that residents didn't get what they bargained for when they voted for the law.

"In my mind, I thought someone would be going to their doctor and getting the (medical marijuana) in pills to control pain," Wilkins said. "At no time did I think dispensaries would be popping up in neighborhoods. Medical marijuana users need to be able to get it without jeopardizing our communities."

Several dispensaries in Michigan have been raided and some certified caregivers have been arrested. There is no language in the state law that addresses distribution and the state itself reiterates that there is no place in Michigan to legally buy medical marijuana.

Those who advocate for the law say there is a simple solution: Make marijuana legal across the board.

Abel, an attorney who has argued issues surrounding the state law, said it is the federal government that ultimately must change its stance on the drug. Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic, sharing the same status as cocaine or heroin.

"Marijuana needs to be legalized," Abel said. "Our laws are gateways for marijuana dealers, not those who use it."

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