Last November, residents of the state of Michigan demonstrated that the protesters who appear on the Diag every April 20 aren’t the only ones in favor of marijuana. By approving Proposal 1, which legalized the use of medicinal marijuana, voters signaled a new tolerance for marijuana — namely, that it should be available as a painkiller for the sick. But despite Proposal 1’s approval, marijuana law is confusing and has in some cases prevented sick people from exercising their legal rights. To remedy the hastily assembled law’s lack of precision, the Michigan legislature must create legal channels for the acquisition of the drug.
In response to increasing medical evidence that marijuana could be a more effective and less disruptive treatment for pain than drugs like morphine, an initiative to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes was placed on the November 2008 ballot. Michigan voters approved the initiative with 63 percent of the popular vote. Patients with the correct prescription and paperwork are now legally allowed to grow and use marijuana to manage severe pain.
But in practice, enacting the initiative has proven to be more difficult, as many have experienced difficulty in obtaining marijuana while navigating the law’s requirements. On Sept. 10, according to the Bay City News, police confiscated seven marijuana plants from the porch of Ron Klug’s home in West Branch, even though Klug possessed the proper paperwork and was not in violation of the law (West Branch man says police seized legal marijuana plants, investigators say little about ongoing probe, 09/17/2009). Incidents like this show that police attitude has yet to catch up to the law and the general public’s attitude — and that’s unacceptable. The police need to recognize that the voters of Michigan approve of medical marijuana and that sick people who want to use it are not breaking the law or harming anyone.
Similar police action has led the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association to lead a march on the state capitol today to illustrate the need for clarification of the medicinal marijuana law, because police response is only a symptom of a larger problem. Though the legalization of medicinal marijuana was an leap forward in pain management, laws haven’t created an avenue for patients to actually use the drug. Now the legislature needs to backtrack and approve a framework for patients looking to buy medicinal marijuana.
Luckily, there’s an example Michigan could follow. California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996, has set up several nonprofit “dispensaries” where patients buy the drug. This kind of system makes acquisition safer and easier, and would make sense for Michigan, too.
But just as Michigan’s drug policy starts to catch up to other states, California is already showing signs of legalizing marijuana for all people, and may have a ballot initiative on this issue in 2010. This development comes as national policy appears to be easing up as well, with the Obama administration’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, deciding to leave drug matters mostly up to the states, focusing on rehabilitation and safety rather than punishment. These changes indicate that efforts to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide are forthcoming.
Michigan shouldn’t be behind this trend. While the legislature should, for now, deal with the ambiguities of the medical marijuana law, the end goal should be legalization.