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Published: Wednesday, 4/6/2011

Fix marijuana law

In 2008, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment that legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, making their state one of more than a dozen that have done so. But the amendment didn't spell out how legalization would work, and state officials haven't done much better since. The people the law is intended to help deserve an improved approach.

Marijuana has been shown to ease the symptoms felt by patients who have glaucoma, cancer, and some other illnesses. There was widespread agreement among Michigan voters that legalization was an acceptable method of relieving these patients' suffering.

The constitutional amendment established a state registry system. But it did not set rigorous standards for those who are approved to grow or use medical marijuana, or for how it is to be cultivated.

The overburdened Michigan Department of Community Health has a backlog of 24,000 applications to grow or use marijuana, the Detroit Free Press reports. While patients are complaining about delays in getting medical marijuana, a number of county prosecutors say the law is being abused by people who just want to grow and smoke pot.

There have been reports of unscrupulous physicians who are willing to certify virtually anybody for the program. And there is the thorny problem of supply.

Marijuana is a controlled substance whose use is forbidden by federal law. The original source of any legal supply of pot must be gotten illegally. Nor is there quality or purity control for marijuana plants, which can differ widely in potency.

The Michigan Legislature should pass legislation that sets up a far better state-run registry and distribution network, perhaps funding it with steep licensing fees. But there would be initial costs, and the state has no extra money. It may be hard to justify spending public dollars on a marijuana program when the state is slashing aid to education and eliminating a tax credit for the working poor.

A better solution for the time being might be a form of "don't ask, don't tell," except for the grossest abuses. Michigan's secretary of state notes that "states are not required to enforce federal law or prosecute people for engaging in activities prohibited by federal law."

The entire question probably needs further legal refinement. But Michigan, which is struggling to balance its budget, save its education system, and reinvent its economy, has more urgent problems to grapple with right now.



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