(U-WIRE) ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- "Free the weed" was the theme Friday on the Diag as University of Michigan students and community members gathered to support the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.
As joints, bongs and other drug paraphernalia were passed around, onlookers listened to local political candidates from the Libertarian and Green parties express their support of the legalization.
"I think it's absurd to arrest 689,000 people a year for a drug that's safer than alcohol or tobacco," said Charles Goodman, the Libertarian Party's candidate for Ann Arbor mayor.
The rally was sponsored by Hemp A2, which was protesting the government's refusal to accept their petition to have a proposal on tomorrow's election ballot about legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
The group's petition had almost 6,000 signatures on it members, Goodman said. It was rejected because it was not turned in by the Aug. 9 deadline, though Hemp A2 maintains they were told the deadline was Aug. 15. The proposal was also declined because the group did not properly identify themselves on their appeal to add the question to the ballot.
The group is currently building a new petition to have the question added to the 2001 ballot.
"Our message is that the Ann Arbor City Council should respect the will of the people," Goodman said.
Matthew Abel, a Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate said the group believes that the "majority of Ann Arbor citizens support this issue."
"We don't want people to think we're a bunch of dope smokers, though, because we're not," he said. "We take this very seriously."
Many in the audience said supported the proposal, including one woman with fibromylagia, an illness that causes long-lasting and chronic pain, stiffness and tenderness in the muscles, joints and tendons.
"I use it everyday," said the community member who asked that her name not be printed. "I have an illness and it's the only thing that works."
She said marijuana "alleviates the pain," and if she
don't take it I'm paralyzed," she said. "It makes me able to move and eat."
Goodman said those who suffer from multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, AIDS and other diseases use marijuana to help ease the torment of their illness.
Smoking marijuana also prevents seizures in MS patients and with glaucoma it eases pressure around the eyes, he said.
Because smoking marijuana also stimulates hunger, Goodman said, those who otherwise would be unable to eat are able to develop an appetite.
Although the rally was in support of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, many of the supporters in the crowd felt that marijuana should be legalized for all purposes.
"The laws are wrong and they need to be changed," Abel said. "I'm really disappointed. I've been smoking marijuana all through high school and all through college ... this is supposed to be a free country and it isn't," Abel said.
LSA freshman Dan Sheill said he views marijuana restrictions as another way for the government to control the people.
"I see no reason why the government has the right to control and tell people you can't smoke marijuana," he said.
LSA sophomore Jay Park said he was on his way to study and decided to listen to the speakers.
"I just don't get the point of legalizing marijuana," Park said. "It's a drug."
(C) 2000 Michigan Daily via U-WIRE