A year after the historic election of President Barack Obama, the verdict may still be out as to whether he’s living up to expectations. But for voters in Michigan, this year’s Election Day marked another important one-year anniversary — the state’s approval of ballot initiatives legalizing medical marijuana and expanding stem cell research. While these progressive measures were intended to provide relief for the chronically ill, they are affecting many residents of Michigan in positive ways. A year after their approval, positive developments are occurring on both the stem cell and medical marijuana fronts — and Michigan must continue to be a leader on these issues.

In last year’s election, Michigan became the 13th state to allow certain patients with specific medical conditions to use marijuana. With permission from a doctor, patients gained the legal right to cultivate and use marijuana to help relieve their symptoms. But the legalization process has not been seamless — with some users still facing unjust legal repercussions — nor has it provided a method for users to obtain marijuana short of growing it themselves or using approved sources. Supporters of medical marijuana rallied in Lansing in early October for clear regulations to make use easier.

In addition to removing legal hurdles to medical marijuana use, the state government needs to make sure it doesn’t fall behind other governing bodies that are beginning to adopt even more lenient marijuana policies. Marijuana usage should be legal, for medical and non-medical reasons, and public sentiment is slowly but surely turning in favor of such a position. Indeed, supporters in California are preparing to launch a ballot initiative campaign calling for total legalization. Even the U.S. Justice Department is is shifting opinion, announcing last month that federal officials wouldn’t arrest patients following state laws regarding medicinal marijuana use.

Michigan is ahead of much of the country in legalizing a safe, already widely practiced behavior. But the state can do even better. Michigan should continue to push the envelope, allowing users to obtain marijuana more easily and eventually aiming for total legalization.

And while Michigan can be said to be at the head of the pack on marijuana reform, the state is even stronger on stem cell reform. Last year’s Proposal 2 lifted restrictions on stem cell research, instantly making Michigan competitive with other states in a promising field of study that has the potential to cure diseases and save lives. And as a sign of the state’s progress, Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced on Oct. 15 that Detroit would be the site of the 2010 World Stem Cell Summit. The event will be co-hosted by the University, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Michigan must keep its place at the forefront of stem cell research. Aside from the obvious benefit of saving lives, increased stem cell research brings the best minds to our universities and the state. This will create jobs and expand the state’s industries into cutting-edge research and development fields, facilitating an economic transformation.

One year after the passage of these beneficial and progressive amendments, Michigan stands at the forefront of important social and economic changes. State policy must continue to push the envelope on these issues in the years to come.

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