Michigan a battleground for medicinal marijuana use
TROY -- Oakland County quietly is becoming home to a grass-roots resistance movement to thwart the national tide of marijuana reform from flowering in Michigan.
Although an effort failed earlier this year to force a statewide referendum to loosen pot laws, anti-drug activists remain vigilant and are marshaling forces for what both sides predict will be an inevitable clash.
Reefer reformers are eying Michigan for a chance to extend a movement that has decriminalized pot in nine liberal-leaning states. Opponents want to preserve this state's tough drug laws, enhance public safety and protect children.
"Michigan has gotten quite high on the radar screen," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
"If we can pass progressive initiatives in Michigan, it's going to be easier for us to go into Washington D.C. and convince lawmakers this is a mainstream issue, not some freaky San Francisco thing. Michigan is going to be a big battleground."
Anti-drug groups led by the Troy Community Coalition recently persuaded government officials in Oakland County, Detroit and Troy to pass resolutions opposing "any effort" to decriminalize marijuana -- including medical use -- or limit drug forfeiture laws.
State drug fighters also recently formed a network of community coalitions that lets them send a coherent message and coordinate activities, said Darnell Jackson, Michigan's drug czar.
The activity follows November ballot successes in Colorado and Nevada, where voters approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The movement has gained momentum since California voters allowed cooperatives to buy cannabis to treat ailments in 1996. Since then, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington voters have passed similar measures.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to weigh the legality of California's law.
After the string of successes by pot proponents, law-and-order proponents vow to stop the movement from gaining root in Michigan.
"A good offense is the best defense," said Maryann Solberg, executive director of the Troy Community Coalition.
"We are about community health. Legalizing marijuana does not enhance
community health. We have enough problems with legal drugs -- alcohol and
tobacco -- without adding another."
Lauded by law enforcement, the Troy Community Coalition's methods sometimes are controversial. Financed partly through state, county and federal grants, the coalition in May hosted a two-day conference in Lansing about the perils of pot.
Solberg said the conference was an education seminar, but marijuana reformer Gregory Schmid said the effort was a publicly funded political rally against decriminalization and the proposed ballot initiative to loosen pot laws.
"They're breaking the law," said Schmid, a Saginaw defense attorney who led the referendum attempt. "It's a crime to use public funds to defeat a ballot initiative and they did."
Solberg called the accusation "crazy."
A complaint to the Secretary of State went nowhere, and Schmid's group failed to muster enough signatures to get a pot question on November's ballot. Backers vow to try again.
The proposed initiative goes further than any successful referendum elsewhere. It would permit not only the medical use of marijuana, but allow those 21 or older to have 3 ounces of pot or three plants. It also would divert funds from drug property forfeitures to prevention of drug abuse, rather than law enforcement.
Possession is now a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail for the first offense, while it's two-year felony for the second offense.
"I don't smoke marijuana and I don't think people should, but people
shouldn't go to jail for it," Schmid said. "I just can't handle the hypocrisy
of it all. Most of the so-called drug warriors have smoked pot. If someone
is under 55 and claims they haven't smoked, I ask them to sign an affidavit
to that effect."
Advocates on both sides of the divide point to supportive medical studies to bolster their arguments. Proponents say it can greatly ease pain of victims of AIDS, arthritis and cancer, among others. Foes say marijuana leads to respiratory disease, other drugs and even psychosis.
A 1999 report by the national Institute of Medicine recommended further
trials and research into the medical benefits of marijuana. Jackson called
arguments about pot's medical value a sham, since a pill form of the drug's
main chemical, THC, has been on the market as a prescription drug since
You can reach Joel Kurth at (313) 222-2192 or firstname.lastname@example.org.