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Published: Friday, 12/5/2008

Medical marijuana mess confronts Michiganders

ANN ARBOR - Yesterday, medical marijuana officially became legal in Michigan, except, well, it isn't.

That is, you can use it legally, as long as you don't ever try to obtain any of it.

And all this has bewildered state bureaucrats scratching their heads, trying to figure out what to do.

Here's what happened: Michigan voters on Nov. 4 overwhelmingly approved allowing the use of marijuana to help the symptoms of those suffering from illnesses such as glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and cancer. The vote was 3 million yes to 1.8 million no.

Unfortunately the proposal was so poorly written that it didn't specify how patients are supposed to get the marijuana.

It said patients can have up to 2.5 ounces in their possession, and that they can grow up to a dozen plants for their own use.

Except there is no legal way they can get their initial supply, or, er, stash. And the state doesn't seem to have a clue what to do.

"We are going to have a series of meetings and try to work out some rules," said James McCurtis, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health, which seems to have gotten stuck with the job of both administering and figuring out the medical marijuana mess.

Eventually, the department intends to issue some ID cards to approved patients and, where needed, their caregivers, saying they are allowed to possess marijuana.

But nobody has any idea how they should get it in the first place, and Mr. McCurtis reminded me that use of it is still illegal under federal law.

How about buying some in one of the dozen other states where medical marijuana is legal, and bringing it here?

Alas, bringing a restricted drug across state lines is even more illegal. What the state could do, perhaps, is negotiate some sort of "don't ask, don't tell" policy with law enforcement officials.

But a number of county sheriffs and state police spokesmen indicated that as far as they were concerned, marijuana is still illegal, and they intended to arrest people who have it.

How this will all be resolved is far from clear, though Mr. McCurtis said he hoped something could be worked out by spring.

Logically, of course, the state ought to be growing and selling any legally approved marijuana. For that matter, it would be a good idea to have some sort of clinics where patients could go smoke marijuana under approved supervision. That would make sense.

But that's not going to happen, even though cash-poor Michigan could probably structure this whole program to make money for the state.

That's because our legislators don't want to touch anything to do with medical marijuana with a 10-foot weed, lest opponents tag them as "friendly to the drug culture."

So any glaucoma sufferers who rejoiced on election night may have celebrated too soon.

There is, however, intense pressure on state officials to work something out. Stay tuned.

* * *

Sobering Perspective: General Motors, which at its peak had several hundred thousand employees in the United States, is now down to 96,000.

Here's what could happen in the next three years:

GM downsizes further to a total work force of between 65,000 and 75,000.

It also eliminates the Saab, Hummer, and Saturn brands. Pontiac is severely downsized, and exists only to make a few sports cars.

Now for the bad news: That is the best case scenario.

That's what General Motors says will happen if it gets what it wants from Congress - $4 billion in federal "bailout" loans by the end of this month, and another $8 billion by March in the new year. If not, the clear implication is that there may not be any General Motors at all.

What was even more baffling was Chrysler's request to Congress. GM, whose shares are traded publicly on the stock exchange, did submit a fairly detailed restructuring plan that included executive cuts and a plan to dramatically shrink the dealer network.

Chrysler, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, whose books aren't open to the public, is asking for $7 billion, right now. True, CEO Bob Nardelli is making only $1 a year, and says he takes no health or insurance benefits.

But the company has provided precious few statistics to justify that figure, beyond saying they hope to launch 24 "major products" in the next four years, including an electric car. Oh, and Chrysler, which most experts think cannot long survive as a stand-alone or full-service automaker, will continue to seek "alliances" or merger partners.

Given the present mood of Congress and the economy, many felt it is hard to imagine that this would be enough to make lawmakers willing to open the nation's wallet.



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