By Anne Stanton 8/3/09
The conclusion of a two-part series about the impact of the medical
Last week, Northern Express profiled two pot growers who have a passion
for marijuana. They love to grow it, they love to smoke it. They believe
it can make people feel better and even cure them.
One of the growers, Archie, made a decision to come out publicly as a
legal caregiver who supplies marijuana for patients. Under the law, he
is allowed to grow the plants and be compensated for the cost of growing
(lights, energy and the plants themselves).
The law is a bit gray, and written in a way that obtaining starter plants
might require an illegal sale. Area law enforcement officials, however,
said they arent planning to target caregivers or patients.
Some of these people are nervous that we are out to get them, looking
over their shoulders, looking in the bushes, all paranoid, said Grand
Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley. Is this public enemy Number One for
us? No, but if we come across it, we will deal with it. Its not changing
the way we do business.
But why was the law written this way?
Ive seen a lot of news stories coming out of Michigan, I guess we never
did a good a job explaining it, said Dan Bernath of the Marijuana Policy
Project, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C.
Federal marijuana policy is why the law was written that way.
Although a state deems medical marijuana use as legal, its still a felony
to possess and to sell marijuana under federal law.
The problem with safely distributing medicine to qualified patients is
that large scale suppliers (over 100 plants) are still considered
criminals under federal law. That doesnt mean states cant provide them
with effective protection, but they have to be careful how access is
allowed, Bernath said.
He explained that the legalization of marijuana is an evolution and
depends on public acceptance. Michigan has taken whats considered the
first stepthat is, approving a law that protects the patient and their
caregiver. Large-scale distributors of plants and medicine are still at
Michigans law was worded similarly to a medical marijuana law passed by
Rhode Island. Now, Rhode Island has gone a step further. In June, its
legislature approved a bill that will allow state-licensed dispensaries to
supply patients with marijuana (it had to override the governors veto to
California is the most com-mercially evolved of the 13 states. It is the
only state, for example, to consider depression as a medical malady in its
marijuana law. Online bloggers claim that anyone who wants to buy
marijuana for medicinal purposes can easily do so.
Marijuana is sold in California dispensaries, which is the legal word
for stores that display different strains of marijuana under glass. The
cost for high quality pot ranges from $300 to $450 an ounceabout the same
as it costs in Michigan.
A turning point for the state was the election of President Obama. Unlike
the Bush administration, the feds have pledged not to use drug agents to
bust sellers as long as they are abiding by state law. Yet a federal judge
created ripples of anxiety last month when he sentenced Charles C. Lynch,
an owner of a dispensary, to one year in federal prison.
And then theres always Ann Arbor, where for 30 years, smoking pot was
punishable by a tiny fine instead of a jail sentence (for first-time
Back in 2004, the citys voters approved both the growing and use of
marijuana for medical purposes. But, of course, doing either one violated
state and federal laws.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Although its fairly easy to get medical marijuana approval in California,
its much more difficult in Michigan, even if your illness clearly
Some doctors in this area are reluctant to sign the required
recommendation. Because of that, scores of patients are going to the THCF
Medical Clinic or one of the eight other new clinics in Southeast
The THCF clinic has a mobile office, which has traveled to Houghton and
Marquette to accept patients. Kalkaska Prosecutor Brian Donnelly wondered
whether thats legal.
If a case comes before me, and the doctor is subpoenaed, I get to ask,
Is he really your doctor? Did he ever see you? The number of cases for
which this doctor Eisenbud has written recommendations is appearing all
over the state. My question is how thoroughly is he evaluating these
people. It might be that hes a busy man and doing as good a job as he
can, but the appearance is hes pretty casual.
In fact, theres nothing in the law that prohibits the clinics
operations; the state has investigated the Southfield clinic and
determined its breaking no law, said James McCurtis, public information
officer of the Department of Community Health, which oversees the medical
The clinic in no way rubber stamps people, said Paul Stanford, the
director of the nonprofit that oversees the clinic.
We screen all of our patients and ask for valid medical documentation
thats less than three years olda diagnosis from an MD or DO. We dont
accept the assessments of a chiropractor. Based on that documentation,
well set up an appointment, Stanford said.
THE DERROR CASE
Donnelly brings up a more troubling point. Theres a Michigan Supreme
Court case, People versus Derror, which holds that anyone who hurts or
kills someone in a car accident can be found criminally negligent if a
blood test shows any trace of marijuana in a blood sample. Lingering
traces are detectable for up to four weeks after smoking.
Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers heard testimony that Delores
Derror had smoked marijuana four hours before the accident; the
prosecutor, however, said he could not stipulate that marijuana played any
role in the accident.
Derror had crossed the center line of M-72 and struck a car, killing the
front seat passenger, paralyzing two young girls, and injuring a third
child. Rodgers ruled that the influence of drugs or alcohol must play a
part in an accident in order to qualify as criminal negligence. The
Supreme Court overturned his decision, saying that a causal relationship
is unnecessary to be found guilty of criminal negligence. As a result,
Derror was sentenced to up to five years in prison instead of two years
I was disappointed in the ruling, Rodgers said. Its a basic justice
problem if you cant show there was a causative legal relationship between
the drug and the injury or death. Derror was driving at too high a rate of
speed in a grossly negligent fashion and crossed the center line on snow
It was the most difficult sentencing Ive ever had. Looking at those two
girlsespecially the older girl (who could not walk). She said she just
wanted people to look at her, not over her. It was chilling. On the other
hand, if youre going to hold someone accountablegive them a 15-year
criminal felony instead of two years for negligencethere should be some
showing of cause between the drug use and the accident.
When a court precedent doesnt seem to make any sense, a jury can and
sometimes does aver to its own sense of justice, and thats called jury
nullification, Rodgers said.
MEDICAL PROS AND CONS
Bob Cameron hasnt touched alcohol or marijuana since 1981. In fact, he is
a licensed substance abuse counselor and a caregiver for Jack Peterson,
who will soon turn 85.
Peterson has prostate cancer, which has metastasized into bone cancer, and
hes gone through the traditional treatments. He is hoping to increase his
chances by using a marijuana tincture under his tongue.
I have patience and faith, said Peterson, who researched marijuana on
the Internet after Michigan voters approved medicinal marijuana in
Cameron believes that its possible to get the curative powers of
marijuana without the euphoria, which he considers an overdose.
He doesnt advocate marijuana for minors nor does he want Michigan to
adopt the same system as California, in which caregivers have simply
become suppliers. He wants to train people to become truly supportive of
those who are sick.
The use of medical marijuana has certainly gained the attention of the
medical community, which has exploded with thousands of scientific
articles in the last several years, according to a survey published in the
most recent Journal of Opioid Management.
The authors of the report said that marijuana has been studied for pain
management, glaucoma, nausea, enhancing appetite for wasting disease,
Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinsons disease.
Over the past 30 years, the United States has spent billions in an effort
to stem the use of illicit drugs, including cannabis, with limited
success. Because of this climate, unfortunately some very ill people have
had to fight and, in many cases, lose long court battles to defend
themselves for the use of a medicinal preparation that has helped them.
wrote the six authors, all of who are physicians or doctorates or both.
POT & PAIN
Bob Heflin, a medical marijuana advocate, cautions that some followers
of Rick Simpson (who promotes marijuana in YouTube clips) are making
premature claims on the drugs ability to cure cancer, although recent
scientific evidence shows it can shrink brain tumors.
It hasnt been researched thoroughly. And yet its given a lot of hope to
a lot of people. But the final evidence is not there yet.
Stanford of the THCF Clinic said that about 65 percent of the patients
suffer from chronic pain.
When they come in, they are usually on large doses of pharmaceutical,
prescription drugs that are highly debilitating and highly addictive, he
Patients are using marijuana to wean themselves off the opiates, he said.
Stanford said each patient is counseled about the laws guidelines. They
are also informed of the conditions that are treatable with whats called
cannabidiol (CBD). Unlike THC, which is made from the bud of the plant,
CBD is found throughout the plant and can be made into food or capsules.
It might make the patient sleepy, but it doesnt make them high.
Critics point to the medical downsides of marijuana.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse asserts that marijuana
use temporarily impairs learning and memory, verbal skills, judgment, and
distorts perception. Use of marijuana by very young teens can have a
profoundly negative effect upon their development.
Marijauna also contains carcinogens and can irritate the lungs.
For this reason, Stanford said that his clinic highly recommends either
using a vaporizer or eating marijuana instead of smoking it.
Kip Belcher of the Traverse Narcotics Team wonders why patients dont
simply use marinol, the legal synthetic marijuana.
Heflin explained that it doesnt provide the same relief as the plant.
In the plant, all the cannabinoids interact synergistically, while in a
synthetic derivative thats not true. Ive heard a lot of patients say it
doesnt offer the relief that the plant does. Secondly, the patients cant
control the dosage with a pill.
PASS THE PIZZA
Judge Rodgers frequently tells people appearing before him that he doesnt
have the choice over which drug is considered legal.
I dont like alcohol, and the people I sentence, by far and away, abuse
alcohol. Marijuana is a distant second. If I had to pick onethe one where
the people who abuse the drug and order pizza and dont beat up their
girlfriend, or the one that tends to open up feelings of hostility and
makes them do really bad things to each eitherId rather have them order
Do I like either one particularly? I see, with both of them, people not
reaching their promise, as husbands or wives or employees. Theyre not
living up to what they could have accomplished. Im not seeing great
literature, great music or great art in the throes of alcoholism or
getting stoned. In college, remember when people were stoned and thought
they were composing great music, and the next day, they play it and it
sounds like crap? It is crap!
Rodgers wondered whether the law specified how big the plants are in a
persons home, or if theres a difference between a cutting and a bush.
Nope. The law doesnt specify.
What about people who have a prior felony record or are on probation?
The law only says caregivers cannot have a felony record. Theres nothing
Rodgers pointed out that the Traverse Narcotics Team (TNT) has put forth a
huge effort to eradicate marijuana in the area.
The TNTs 2008 Annual Report shows that marijuana arrests made up half of
total arrests. The dollar value of marijuana and hash made up an
astonishing 99 percent of the total $1.4 million in illegal drugs captured
in the area.
Rodgers believed the confiscation of $1.4 million in marijuana has forced
up prices, which, in turn, has attracted out-of-town sellers. Most of
these sellers seem to come from Texas.
Heflin believes that TNT should put their efforts on the higher-tier
suppliers who bring in more dangerous drugs of heroin and crack cocaine.
The war on drugs is really the war on marijuana, he said.
Belcher said that Judge Rodgers is partially right about limited supply
pushing up prices. Another factor for the higher pricesup to $4,000 a
poundcome from the drugs much higher potency. Some dealers are making
huge sums of money with the high-potency marijuana, he said.
Another reason that pot has flowed in from Texas, is that some customers
prefer it. Called brown weed, it is weaker than the high-grade pot
thats grown locally, as well as from Grand Rapids, Lansing and Vancouver,
With a crippling national debt and public spending now under scrutiny,
some Americans wonder if its time to re-examine the cost to arrest and
imprison users and growers.
The number of marijuana related arrests have climbed from 287,850 in 1991
to 755,00 in 2003, but the stepped up enforcement hasnt done a thing to
deter drug use, according to the group NORML (National Organization for
the Reform of Marijuana).
The group on the other side of the argumentthe National Institute on Drug
Abuseconcurs that drug use remains very high. A 2008 survey reflects that
42.6 percent of our nations 12th graders have smoked pot.
Some people point to the tax revenues of California, which now reap up to
$120 million in medical marijuana sales taxes, according to the Drug War
Chronicle (a policy newsletter).
Legalizing marijuana for everyone could reap an estimated $1.4 billion,
according to statistics included in the proposed bill.
In Michigan, becoming a caregiver might be considered a profitable
sideline. Those who grow the legal limit for patients could gross up to
$20,000 to $30,000 a year, based on current prices and the laws
guidelines of growing 12 plants per patient.
Jody Treter, a Traverse City resident who was visiting San Diego
recently, said she had picked up a weeklymuch like the Northern
Expressand couldnt believe the number of ads for medicinal marijuana.
It was ad after ad after ad. It was unbelievable, she said.
She has gained a different perspective about marijuana after traveling
the world. In Kauai, an island of Hawaii, several people were anxious to
talk to her about the consequences of marijuana eradication on the
island. They told her it was driving people to methamphetamines instead,
One need only look to the tragic deaths in Mexiconow spilling into the
United Statesto realize that driving marijuana underground has deadly
consequences, she added.
I am not advocating for the use of pot. Im advocating for
decriminalizing marijuana. Folks need to be reminded that caffeine,
tobacco, alcohol and even sugar can be considered drugs and they are all
legal. Everything in moderation.
Is the country ready for a change? Rodgers said that prohibition of
alcohol was lifted, not because anyone disagreed that its chronic abuse
was pernicious, causing liver and heart damage, violent behavior, and,
ultimately, broken lives.
Alcohol was legalized simply because the law was no longer enforceable,
The black market reached a tipping point where it became unenforceable.
We were turning police into criminals; people were making huge amounts of
money and paying off police. It was re-legalized because people had
misjudged the effects of the law.