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Published: Thursday, 7/7/2011

Marijuana and the law

Three years ago, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative that authorized doctor-approved patients to use marijuana for medical reasons. There is considerable scientific evidence that carefully limited use of the drug relieves suffering from such diseases as cancer, glaucoma, and AIDS. Despite opposition from social conservatives, Michiganians were sympathetic.

Yet the law has created big administrative and legal problems since it took effect. A few unscrupulous doctors have been happy to certify (for a fee) just about anyone to use medical marijuana.

At the same time, there’s is evidence that overzealous law enforcement officers may have hassled legitimate users, including a man who was hauled in because he was growing his plants in a chicken coop that lacks a roof. The law requires medical marijuana to be grown in an “enclosed, locked facility.”

The law needs clarification, but achieving it may not be easy. Because it was approved by voters, state lawmakers would have to muster a three-fourths majority to enact any change in it.

Various bills are pending in the Legislature. But the best solution might be for lawmakers to draft a new ballot initiative that cleans up the problems in the current law, and submit it to voters.

One idea worth considering: Although certified users are allowed to cultivate as many as a dozen cannabis plants, there is still no legal way for them to get their initial supply.

It might make sense for the state to become the supplier of what is now a regulated prescription drug.

In any event, Michigan needs to take steps to clarify the rules sooner rather than later. As Gov. Rick Snyder has said, the Legislature has more urgent issues on its plate, and state police have better things to do than spend time checking medical marijuana-growing chicken coops to see whether they have roofs.

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