On November 4, 2008, the citizens of Michigan will vote on a statutory proposal, which was placed on the ballot through a citizen initiated petition, to allow for the medical use of marijuana under state law for patients with certain "debilitating medical conditions" including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, hepatitis C, and multiple sclerosis, among others. The complete text of the proposal is available on CRC’s website.
The legalization of medical marijuana is proposed because advocates argue that marijuana can be a beneficial drug for people with certain serious illnesses. While there are other, currently legal, drugs to treat the symptoms of these illnesses, they may not effectively treat all patients. It is asserted that legalized medical marijuana presents patients with one more option to treat debilitating pain, nausea, and other symptoms. Opponents of medical marijuana counter that marijuana is an illegal drug and it has no medical purpose that cannot be more properly met through legal medication. Opponents also believe that legal medical marijuana may increase recreational use of marijuana, which would remain illegal.
Current Marijuana Laws
Marijuana use is currently illegal under federal and Michigan law. If this initiative passes, it will allow for the medicinal use of marijuana under Michigan law, but will have no effect on federal laws related to the use and distribution of marijuana.
Federal Law. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which sorts drugs into five schedules with I being the most restrictive and V being the least restrictive. Schedule I drugs are defined as having a high potential for abuse, having no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and lacking accepted safety standards for use of the drug under medical supervision. Other drugs that are classified as Schedule I substances include heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and peyote. Schedule II drugs, such as cocaine, have a high potential for abuse, but have currently accepted medical uses under severe restrictions. Schedule V drugs, such as limited amounts of codeine (e.g., in cough syrup), have currently accepted medical uses and low potential for abuse. Even though marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug with no accepted medical use, the federal government does operate a program that supplies medical marijuana to a small number of seriously ill patients (it was closed to new applicants in 1992).
Under federal law, possession of marijuana for personal use is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in federal prison and up to a $100,000 fine for a first offense. Growing or manufacturing marijuana is a felony and possession of one plant is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine for a first offense.
The federal CSA is not preempted by state laws, so federal agents can arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients and caregivers under federal law. In practice, most arrests for marijuana possession are made by state and local officials, not by federal agents, who tend to focus on marijuana manufacturers and distributors. In reality this means that state laws legalizing medical marijuana tend to protect patients and caregivers, but growers and distributors of medical marijuana do not escape prosecution at the federal level.
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