Although marijuana use is illegal in most parts of the United
States, on election day the citizens of Ann Arbor will decide
whether medical marijuana should be legalized in the city.

Janna Hutz
Charles Ream, Scio Township trustee, is pushing for an initiative to change Ann Arbor city laws to legalize medicinal marijuana use. The initiative will be voted on in the November election.

A proposal on the November election ballot would amend Ann
Arbor’s charter to allow the use of marijuana for medical
purposes. If the initiative passes, users who can prove they are
using marijuana with the recommendation of a qualified health
professional will be exempt from fines or prosecution by Ann Arbor
police officers.

Yet the move may be merely symbolic, even if the charter does
get amended. Lloyd Johnston, a researcher at the University’s
Institute of Social Research, said, “There has never been a
real implementation of laws (to legalize medical marijuana) because
the federal law always trumps the state laws, and state laws in
turn trump local laws.”

Scio Township Trustee Charles Ream, who spearheaded the drive to
place this initiative on the ballot, says this is a chance for the
city to “send a big message that we want to help patients
here, and that it is foolishness that marijuana is not available to
sick people.”

As much a personal crusade as it is a political issue for Ream,
the 57-year-old University alum speaks with great conviction of the
efficacy of the drug. In 1968, while in college, Ream suffered from
stomach ulcers and gastric pains so severe that he considered
dropping out of school. Nothing the doctors prescribed could ease
his trauma.

“It was only after a friend gave me cannabis joints to
smoke that I managed to take control of my life again. I went back
to college, graduated magna cum laude and I’ve led a
successful life since,” says Ream, who was a kindergarten
teacher for 33 years.

Medical marijuana — which some research has shown to treat
glaucoma, nausea and loss of appetite — is already legal in
nine states, including California, Hawaii and Nevada. Most
recently, in August, Detroit voters passed an initiative legalizing
medical marijuana in the city.

Ream has led the drive to legalize marijuana in Ann Arbor by
collecting 7,000 petition signatures, about double the number
necessary to put the initiative on the ballot. He paid voters $1
per signature, using $5,000 of his own money.

Now, with limited funds left at his disposal, Ream is doing all
he can with $4,000 provided by the Marijuana Policy Project —
an organization which works to reduce criminal penalties for
marijuana use —and another $1,000 of his own savings.

Ream wants to run radio advertisements promoting the initiative,
but that plan depends on support from donors. Instead, he has
decided to rely on newspaper articles and editorials to make his
cause known. A public forum will also be held at the First
Unitarian Universalist Church of Ann Arbor on Oct. 24 at 12:45
p.m., on the medicinal values of marijuana.

In addition to lack of funding, the initiative faces opposition
from Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has made it clear that she does
not approve of medical marijuana use. In a letter to the City
Council, Granholm said it is still illegal to use, possess or sell
marijuana under state and federal law.

She said that even if the proposal passes and becomes a city
law, state and federal law enforcers would still be able to arrest,
charge and prosecute marijuana users, even if they were using
prescribed marijuana.

Johnston, director of an annual survey of teenage substance
abuse, cites the example of California, where a medical marijuana
initiative was passed but rarely implemented. “Federal
authorities made it clear that physicians prescribing marijuana
risked losing their licenses to prescribe all controlled
substances, including all of the traditional psychotherapeutic
drugs,” he said.

Ream said he refuses to be deterred by Granholm’s
opposition and remains convinced that more can be done to legalize
marijuana for medical purposes. In a written response to Granholm,
he said, “Ann Arbor voters don’t like it when you tell
them that their vote will be ignored.”

He mentioned Burlington, Vt., which legalized medical marijuana
with an 83 percent majority, prompting the state to adopt the
policy, and says he hopes a similar amendment will be approved
here.

“People here understand research and the truth. They are
too smart to be manipulated by cultural wars,” Ream
added.

Yet some people doubt that the initiative will have positive
health benefits if passed.

Kirk Brower, a psychiatry professor at the University, said,
“I would vote against this initiative because the issue here
is that they want to legalize marijuana joints. I don’t think
smoking a joint is the best delivery system because along with the
active ingredient that has medicinal purposes, smokers also inhale
tar and other cannabinoids whose effects have not been
researched.”

While Brower believes marijuana does have medicinal values, he
says drug approval should be left to the Food and Drug
Administration and not legalized through a ballot.

“The only reason I feel people would vote for this is to
raise awareness about the effects of medical marijuana.”
Brower said. “However, I believe the proper channel of
approval should be through the FDA, which will impose regulations
and controls for the prescription of addictive medicines, such as
morphine.”

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