Buzz over medical marijuana

Despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federal agents are free to bust medical marijuana users in states that have legalized prescription pot, metro Detroit activists say they’ll press ahead with efforts to put the issue on local ballots.

"We’ve had overwhelming support from the community thus far," says Donal O’Leary III, chairman of the Ferndale Coalition for Compassionate Care, which is gathering petition signatures in an attempt to get a medical marijuana initiative before that city’s voters. "We are looking forward to moving forward."

The same is true in Traverse City and Flint, where similar efforts are under way.

Activists say they are undaunted by the June 6 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which, on a 6-3 vote, ruled that the feds are allowed to arrest medical marijuana users in the 10 states that have legalized the use of pot to treat ailments such as glaucoma and epilepsy, and to reduce the debilitating side effects of treatments used to fight cancer, AIDS and other maladies.

Ann Arbor and Detroit already have statutes on the books permitting medical marijuana. Tim Beck, who led the effort in Detroit, is advising activists in Ferndale and Flint as they press ahead. As founder of the Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care, Beck fought hostile city politicians — including Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick — in his ultimately successful attempt to get the measure on the ballot. Once the matter was in their hands, more than 60 percent of the city’s voters gave their approval of the proposed ordinance in August 2004.

Beck anticipates steep resistance to the new campaigns, particularly from Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca.

Beck isn’t blowing smoke. Gorcyca maintains marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead to cocaine and heroin use, and should not be legal for any purpose. "It’s a very slippery slope," he says. "I’ve never heard a legitimate report from any doctor that it has any medicinal value."

Gorcyca might try brushing up on his medical literature. In the last five years, the New England Journal of Medicine, National Institutes of Medicine, the American Nurses Association, the American Association of Pediatric Medicine and the California Medical Association have all recommended legalization of marijuana for medical use.

Given that kind of support from the mainstream medical establishment, Beck is optimistic that the people of Ferndale and Flint will see through any political smokescreens. "I think it’s going to win by a wide margin."

As for the Supreme Court vote, "Nothing’s changed, we’re just moving ahead," he says.

According to Ferndale’s city charter, the group there has 60 days in which to collect 293 valid signatures. After just a few weeks, the Ferndale group has already collected 100 names.

In Detroit, police will continue to adhere to the city’s medical marijuana ordinance. Department spokesman James Tate says there have been no arrests since the Detroit referendum passed last summer. "We have had no cases where medical marijuana use has come up," he says.

Nationally, Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, says that instead of deterring efforts, the Supreme Court ruling will galvanize the push for legalization of medical marijuana in Michigan and elsewhere.

"I would argue it’s not a setback at all," he says, citing a 43-2 vote in Rhode Island’s state Senate legalizing medical marijuana there the day after the Supreme Court ruling. "You might see this continuing as a boomerang effect, strengthening the movement."

In fact, through their ruling, Mirken says, even some of the justices who voted with the majority acknowledged that change is needed. "The court gave a very strong hint that Congress needs to address federal law," he says.

Those interested in supporting the local efforts can contact Donal O’Leary in Ferndale at 248-259-3039 or Charles Snyder in Flint at 810-496-1418.

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