Commentary
10:02 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Confusion Over Medical Marijuana

Two years ago, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Voters from liberal Ann Arbor to staunchly conservative Ottawa County supported this change.

Some, to be sure, saw this as opening the door to a complete legalization of marijuana. However, they appear to have been a minority. Most people seem to have felt that those who are legitimately suffering from disease such as glaucoma ought to be able to use the drug in cases where it could ease their pain.

But the devil is always in the details, and we probably should have foreseen that administering this law was going to be an unholy mess. Yesterday, the Detroit Free Press took a comprehensive look at how the medical marijuana law has been working.

To nobody’s surprise, their answer was: Not very well. The state is struggling with a huge backlog of applications to grow the stuff.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, have been going after people who may be falsely claiming to be growing and selling pot for medical use, and there are also rumors that certain physicians are happy to certify that most anybody qualifies to use marijuana for “medical” purposes.

On top of that, neither the constitutional amendment - or any other law - has made it clear where medical marijuana is supposed to come from. Part of the problem is that marijuana is a controlled substance whose use is illegal under federal law.

So, basically, the original source of any pot supply has got to be illegal, even if the state of Michigan approves someone to grow marijuana for medical reasons. There is also, so far as I can tell, absolutely nothing to ensure purity or quality control of the supply.

Basically, then, we’ve got a system of something approaching anarchy when it comes to medical marijuana.

So, what do we do about it?

The Free Press sensibly argues in favor of setting up a state-approved distribution network. They would  then charge licensing fees which could then be used for the costs of administering the system, and what must be a rapidly growing bureaucracy connected with it. There might also be streamlined mechanisms for approval similar to what pharmacies use for other drugs.

These are all sensible ideas, on paper. However -- is the state really in a place or a position to create or vastly expand an administrative bureaucracy?

No matter how foolproof a system we devise, people are going to try to get around it.  We’re being told by the governor that we can’t fund schools and colleges the way we used to. We can’t give tax credits to the working poor, or to the movie industry.

Do we really want to spend our scarce resources chasing down casual potheads? I have no desire to use marijuana or any other drug, and even less desire to have someone high crash into my car.

But I am wondering if the most sensible approach right now might be a version of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” except in cases of the grossest abuse. We are in an age of limits, and Michigan can handle only so many crises at one time. My guess is that regulating the medical marijuana law isn’t the biggest problem we have.