A majority of Michiganians is inclined to legalize marijuana for sick people, but a second statewide ballot proposal to relax restrictions on stem cell research in Michigan is a closer contest -- and the advertising blitz has just begun on that measure.
The latest Detroit News-WXYZ Action News poll found that the voters, by a 59-37 margin, favor the ballot proposal to allow terminally and seriously ill people to legally use marijuana if a doctor certified the drug could ease their suffering.
The statewide poll was conducted for The News, WXYZ and three outstate television stations from Saturday to Monday by Lansing's EPIC-MRA. It showed that the biggest backers were women ( 63 percent support ), Metro Detroiters ( 60 percent ) and Democrats ( 68 percent ). Among men, the proposal garnered 51 percent support and 49 percent of Republicans favored it.
If Proposal 1 is approved by voters in November, Michigan would become the 13th state to legalize medical marijuana. Supporters estimate that as many as 50,000 Michigan residents would legally qualify for medical marijuana to treat a host of "debilitating" medical problems such as cancer, HIV /AIDS, hepatitis C, Alzheimer's disease, Crohn's disease and chronic diseases or their treatments that produce wasting syndrome, severe pain, sever nausea, seizures or muscle spasms, such as those caused by multiple sclerosis.
"I'm all for it," said poll participant Jeff Bergel, a 52-year-old wholesale representative and father of two from Walled Lake.
"I lost a brother-in-law to brain cancer last year and I think marijuana could have helped make his more comfortable. My dad has glaucoma and I understand it could help him as well."
On the controversial issue of stem cells, poll respondents, by a 50-32 margin, favor amending the state Constitution to allow scientists to derive embryonic stem cells from human embryos for medical research. Support among women is 57 percent compared to 42 percent among men. Support is 56 percent in Metro Detroit, but 45 percent among voters in the rest of the state.
Michigan has one of the nation's most restrictive laws on stem cell research; a scientist here who uses new human embryos for stem cell research can face a $10 million fine and up to 10 years in prison.
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research say research could lead to better therapies and possible cures for a host of diseases and injuries such as cancer, Parkinson's, juvenile diabetes and spinal cord injuries. Opponents -- including political heavy hitters Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference -- say research on human embryos is morally wrong because it destroys life. Critics of the measure also say its adoption could lead to human cloning, although the proposal doesn't seek to change state law that already bans cloning.
"I've thought about it a lot and I think stem cell research would be all right," said Regina Gerling, a grandmother from Muskegon who took part in the poll.
"I'm a diabetic, so I wish they would find new cures." Law enforcement groups are near unanimous in their opposition to medical marijuana, saying it's part of a broader agenda to legalize marijuana for everyone. But there doesn't appear to be any group ready to spend money on an ad campaign to defeat the measure.
Michael Opland, a 64-year-old father of three from Harrison Township, said he supports medical marijuana, although he believes a lot of people would get the marijuana even though their medical conditions wouldn't warrant it.
"A certain number of people would probably take advantage of the law," he said. "But it's worth it to get marijuana to people who really need it."
The stem cell campaign is likely to get red-hot in the coming weeks. Opponents of the proposal started running TV commercials this week, suggesting that Michigan taxpayers would shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for the research. The opposition group, Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation, filed a financial statement with the state on Thursday, showing it has rose about $595,000 -- including $500,000 from the Catholic Conference -- and had $233,000 on hand as of Sept. 18.
Supporters of stem cell research have not yet launched an ad campaign, although they are expected to shortly. They say the ballot proposal doesn't direct a dime of state money to research. The group, CureMichigan, filed its financial statement on Thursday, showing it had raised $2.27 million and had $257,000 on hand. It also has loans and obligations of more than $1.5 million, including more than $1 million in loans from the A. Alfred Taubman Trust of Bloomfield Hills.
Judith Maser, a retired clothing buyer from Novi, was originally opposed to stem cell research.
"Now I believe stem cell research could help a lot of people," she said. "I think medicine has gotten so advanced that this is the future for our young people."