Commentary
11:09 am
Tue July 5, 2011

Medical Marijuana

Three years ago, Michigan voters approved allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes by a margin of almost two to one.

Social conservatives weren’t happy, and feared that this would lead to the back door legalization of marijuana for everyone. However, the public was overwhelmingly sympathetic to its use for medical reasons. That’s largely because there is considerable evidence that marijuana can relieve suffering from diseases including cancer, glaucoma, and a host of other ailments. Yet there were problems from the start with the medical marijuana law.

For one thing, it wasn’t passed by the legislature, as most laws are, but was placed on the ballot by citizens who collected enough signatures to put it there. Legalizing marijuana for medical patients required setting up a complex new system.

This had never been tried before in Michigan, and it’s evident that the framework needs to be tweaked.  For one thing, there are clearly a handful of unscrupulous doctors all too willing to certify people for medical marijuana use.

The Detroit Free Press reported that only fifty-five doctors have authorized medical marijuana for more than seventy percent of all those now eligible. Whatever your feelings about marijuana, the voters did not intend to effectively legalize its recreational use.

Nor could Michigan legally do that. Technically, any marijuana use is still against federal law, and Washington could, if it chose, move against any of the sixteen states that authorize medical marijuana. They haven’t, and even allowed a medical marijuana statute to be enacted in Washington, D.C.. But if Michigan or any other state were to openly act as if the legalization of medical marijuana meant we could establish a marijuana industry for all, the odds of federal intervention would become much greater.

On the other hand, it is clear that people do want marijuana to be available to those with legitimate medical conditions.

The point of the law was to shield those folks from harassment by the authorities. But in some cases, that may be still going on; police went after one man because he was growing his plants in a chicken coop without a roof.

So the law needs changes to clean up ambiguities and prevent abuses. This, however, won’t be easy. While there are a number of proposed bills, any would need the support of three-fourths of the legislature to become law.

That’s because this was passed by citizen initiative. What might make the most sense is for a bipartisan committee to come up with some non-ideological changes to fix this law, and then for the legislature to place it on the November ballot.  Incidentally, there is one other major problem: While medical marijuana patients are allowed to have at least twelve plants, there’s no strictly legal way for them to get their initial supply. So here’s a radical suggestion: Have the state become the supplier of what is now a state-regulated prescription drug.

That would eliminate any middleman, and make it far easier to control who actually possesses legal medical marijuana.

Regardless, it is clear that the law needs to be fixed, soon. Our lawmakers have a lot more on their plate. And our various police forces have more important things to do than check the roof on the chicken coop in which Aunt Bertha grows her glaucoma medication.