Across Midwest, interest in medical marijuana grows
Michigan vote seen as test for region on issue
By Tim Jones | Chicago Tribune correspondent
July 13, 2008
The move to legalize medical marijuana is advancing in the Midwest, with Michigan poised to be the first state between the Rockies and New England to sanction the use of the illegal drug by terminally or seriously ill people.
Michigan voters will decide in November whether to authorize marijuana use if a doctor determines suffering could be eased by the drug from such diseases as cancer, Crohn's disease, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's or hepatitis C.
While years of public opinion polls show opposition to legalizing marijuana, polls and the overwhelming majority of state referendum votes also show strong support for medical use of marijuana. At the same time, some physician groups have dropped their resistance to medical marijuana.
The combined effect of public opinion, medical research showing benefits of marijuana in the treatment of some diseases and shifts in attitudes in the medical community has fueled the movement that has seen 12 states adopt medical marijuana laws in the past dozen years.
"We need to get beyond the political debate and into medical terms. That's where the public is," said Dianne Byrum, a former state legislator in Michigan and spokeswoman for the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care, the Detroit-area group that turned in 475,000 signatures to earn a spot on the fall ballot.
"This is really about patients and their suffering. ... For them, medical use of marijuana should give them comfort and not the threat of arrest or jail," Byrum said.
Doctors drop opposition
There is evidence in the Midwest suggesting political interest. Five Michigan cities already have medical marijuana ordinances. The Minnesota state Senate recently approved a medical marijuana measure, though it died on the House floor. A similar measure died in the Illinois state Senate in the past session. Other measures were debated in Ohio, Wisconsin and Missouri.
Less than four months before the November election, there is no organized opposition to Michigan's binding referendum. The Michigan State Medical Society, the state's arm of the American Medical Association, recently dropped its opposition to medical marijuana and said it will be neutral in the fall campaign.
"We're keeping an open mind that marijuana in limited amounts can help some," said Dr. Michael Sandler, a diagnostic radiologist and president of the Michigan State Medical Society.
But resistance is expected to develop, given the political volatility of the marijuana issue and the experience California