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Published: Sunday, 11/2/2008

Medical marijuana question confronts voters

BLADE STAFF

Michigan voters will decide two statewide proposals on Tuesday s ballot: an initiative to legalize marijuana for medical purposes and a constitutional amendment to ease restrictions on stem-cell research using human embryos.

The ballot issue known as Proposal 1 would allow patients with a variety of conditions to use marijuana with a doctor s recommendation and allow registered individuals to grow the plant in an enclosed, locked facility.

A group called the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care is asking voters to approve the measure.

This is about compassion and protecting seriously ill patients, said Dianne Byrum, a former state legislator and spokesman for the organization.

If approved, it would allow individuals with debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis to use a limited amount of marijuana with a doctor s recommendation to treat pain, nausea, and other symptoms.

The law is very narrow in its definition and a number of safeguards have been put in place so that it can be implemented and regulated with ease, Ms. Byrum said. It won t become a law enforcement issue in terms of enforcement.

Under the proposal, the Department of Community Health would establish an identification card system for patients approved to use marijuana and individuals qualified to grow it. If voters approve the initiative, Michigan would become the 13th state to have some form of legal marijuana use for medical purposes.

The proposal is opposed by Citizens Protecting Michigan s Kids, a coalition of medical, law enforcement, anti-drug, and other organizations, including the Michigan State Medical Society, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, and Citizens for Traditional Values.

James Muffett, president of Citizens for Traditional Values, said the ballot initiative is loosely written and filled with loopholes that could open the door for individuals without debilitating conditions to legally use marijuana.

The proposal goes way beyond providing pain medication and opens the doors to other things, he said. This is a very dangerous drug and the initiative sends a horrible message to young people.

The other ballot issue, Proposal 2, asks voters to approve a constitutional amendment to expand the use of human embryonic stem cells for research in the state.

If approved, it would allow the use of human embryos for any research permitted under federal law as long as the embryos were created for fertility treatment purposes, are not suitable for implantation or are in excess of clinical needs, would be discarded unless used for research, and were donated by the individual seeking fertility treatment.

Also, the issue provides that stem cells cannot be taken from human embryos more than 14 days after cell division begins and prohibits the sale or purchase of embryos for stem cell research.

Proponents of the amendment say passage would expand the capabilities of research and could go a long way in finding cures and treatment for cancer, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson s disease, and other conditions.

The main issue is clearly the issue of hope and cures for people who have some very debilitating disease, said Chris DeWitt, a spokesman for Cure Michigan.

Mr. DeWitt said it would put Michigan on equal footing with Ohio and 44 other states that have laws permitting stem cell research similar to that proposed in the amendment.

The proposal is opposed by a group known as Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation. Dave Doyle, spokesman of the Lansing-based group, said the issue goes too far in allowing unrestricted stem cell research.

Whether you vote yes or no on this proposal, embryonic stem cell research will continue to be legal in Michigan, he said. It is conducted today with limited restrictions

Mr. Doyle said the amendment is deceptively worded, and he believes it could lead to a change in the state law banning human cloning.



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