Emerging in the public eye during the development of counterculture in the 1960’s, marijuana has since been identified as a psychedelic drug that stemmed the creation of hippies and the sexual revolution. So-called “stoners” are viewed as clumsy, lazy and idiotic individuals who have no more brain cells remaining due to the vast amount of “joints” that they have smoked. Films such as Dazed and Confused and most recently Pineapple Express portray the typical impression many form at the mention of marijuana.
Despite such stereotypes and false impressions of the “marijuana culture,” many individuals across the country are discovering a new-found herbal remedy to ease their pain.
Pot, weed, grass, maryjane, cannabis — whatever you want to call it — marijuana has been scientifically proven to reduce the symptoms of numerous life-threatening illnesses, but has been denied to many suffering patients in Michigan and across the nation. But if voters pass Proposition 1 this November, that could very well change.
Christian Jeffrey Elton, 55, an Iowa resident and devoted Christian, worked as a recording engineer in New York City for 12 years creating the audio for radio and television commercials, which earned him five Clio Awards. Following his successful career in the Big Apple, Elton went on to become a stage manager and lighting tech for the Mel Tillis Theater in Branson, Missouri and eventually moved back to Des Moines, Iowa to work in the master control room of a local television station.
Along with his successful career in the media and performing arts industry, Elton is a divorced father of one. “I am just an ordinary man, divorced with a 19-year-old son. Even though we are no longer together, my ex-wife and I remain close friends,” he said. “My son is my life.” But most recently Elton was put on disability at the age of 50 after he was diagnosed with Adult Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and a life-long disorder known as Diabetic Neuropathic Gastroparesis.
Gastroparesis causes the nerve endings within the stomach that aid in the digestion of food to die off. This results in consistent waves of mild to severe nausea every hour of every day for Elton. “The term lifelong means I will have these disorders and excruciating side effects for the rest of my life,” he said. If Elton’s nausea is not controlled it leads to vomiting and the inevitable loss of appetite. The most commonly prescribed medication for this disorder is Reglan (Metoclopramide) which causes irreversible Parkinson’s Disease-like shakes and tremors, if it is taken regularly.
Patients in Iowa do not have the option of medical marijuana treatment since medical marijuana is not legal. “My doctor has me on the drug Marinol since medical marijuana is illegal in Iowa, but it is not as efficient or effective as inhaled cannabis,” Elton said. “Considering that cannabis is known as an extremely safe therapeutic drug with an addiction level as minor as caffeine, why are drugs like Reglan and Marinol considered legal and more safe?”
Elton is not alone in the struggle to legalize medical marijuana rights for desperate patients in pain. As a grassroots organization (no pun intended) based out of Ferndale, Mich., The Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care (MCCC) is devoted to passing a medical marijuana initiative in Michigan in time for the November 2008 election. Currently those suffering from critical illnesses that use marijuana for medicinal purposes face the same criminal penalties as individuals who use the drug recreationally.
According to Dianne Byrum, the MCCC spokeswoman, the current punishment for possession of marijuana in the state of Michigan is a five year felony per plant. Although Byrum has no solid statistics on this matter, she believes that medical users in Michigan have been arrested in the past.
The MCCC approached Byrum to be the organization’s spokeswoman early last year. After serving as a Michigan state representative and senator for 16 years, Byrum was more than willing to help promote such a cause. “I personally support the medical use of marijuana as a treatment option and accepting the position as the MCCC spokeswoman is the right thing to do,” she said. “I think it’s a good policy.”
On November 20, 2007 the MCCC submitted more than half a million signatures to the state of Michigan to qualify the initiative for the 2008 election ballot, which was a historic moment for the organization and patients alike. This is not the first time a campaign has been launched to support legal medical marijuana use in Michigan. Many previous pro-marijuana activists attempted to legalize such laws, like the 1960s activists supported by the Beatles and Rolling Stones and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) that was formed in 1970, but all repeatedly failed to do so. For the first time medical marijuana activists are beginning to see a spark of progression.
The signatures were formally certified on March 3, 2008 with an 80.2 percent validity rate and the petition was then transmitted to the Michigan Legislature. No action was taken on the proposal and it was officially put on the ballot. “The ballot proposal is very narrow,” Byrum said. “It is directed towards a restricted group of people to allow the use medical marijuana in the privacy of their own home.”
If Proposition 1 is passed on election day, Michigan law will allow patients to use, possess, and grow their own marijuana for medicinal purposes with the approval of their doctor. Patients will be issued identification cards through a registration system that will help government officials identify medical users of marijuana.
Although patients will be allowed to legally use marijuana as treatment, it must be done in private and driving while under the influence will continue to be prohibited. Proof of an existing doctor-patient relationship must be presented in writing and limits will be placed upon the amount of marijuana each patient will be allowed to possess at one time. The patient may have up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and grow up to twelve plants in an enclosed locked facility.
[Elton]A March 2008 poll on the MCCC Web site, found that 67 percent of Michigan voters support removing criminal penalties for the medical use of marijuana. Five cities within Michigan already have established laws on medical marijuana and all of them passed by a landslide. Flint, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Traverse City and Ferndale all allow the use of medical marijuana and the MCCC is hoping to expand and permit such allowance across the state of Michigan and influence other states to consider legalizing medical marijuana laws as well.
Twelve states across the nation have passed medical marijuana laws including Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Michigan would be the first Midwest state to remove criminal penalties for medical marijuana use and with a population of more than 10 million people, it would be the second largest state to establish these laws. “To me it is cruel and inhumane to deprive anyone of pain relief from a debilitating illness,” Elton said. “Why should I be forced to move to another state just for relief from my symptoms?”
Medical marijuana has been proven to help ease the symptoms of AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, Crohn’s Disease, glaucoma, HIV and Hepatitis C. According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a non-profit organization that endorses medical marijuana, the drug can ease nausea, increase appetite, lessen muscle spasms, reduce pain and bring down pressure within the eye.
Treatment is often administered through smoking, but experts say it can be mixed with food or inhaled from a vaporizer. “The therapeutic effects of marijuana are due to a class of chemical compounds known as cannabinoids of which 66 have been identified. These compounds mimic anandamide, an endogenous neurotransmitter that binds to various receptors within the central nervous system,” Zach Jarou, MCCC intern and MSU graduate in 2008, said in an email. “Currently receptors have been identified in localized areas of the brain associated with appetite regulation (to treat nausea), suppressing convulsions (to treat epilepsy) and anti-inflammation (to treat multiple sclerosis). More research is necessary in order to further elucidate the mechanisms by which these responses occur.”
Jarou first heard about the MCCC during his senior year as a biochemistry major at MSU after MCCC spokeswoman Byrum presented the initiative to the MSU Undergraduate Bioethics Society. Immediately Jarou wanted to become involved and created a Michigan Students for Medical Marijuana group on Facebook. The MCCC became aware of this group and contacted Jarou about an internship. “As an intern for the MCCC, it is my responsibility to do everything in my power to ensure the passage of Proposal 1 this November,” he said. Shortly after Jarou began his internship with the MCCC, he orchestrated the formation of an official Spartans for Medical Marijuana organization on campus. “We have already distributed thousands of information flyers since school started but this is only the beginning. We are actively recruiting new members through our Facebook group,” he said.
Not only is Jarou interested in the biochemical aspect of medical marijuana treatment, it is a subject that is close to his heart. “As someone whose mother suffers from multiple sclerosis, an illness that could potentially be treated with medical marijuana, I know what it’s like to have to see someone struggle to make it through each day. And I’d like to ask those who don’t personally know anyone experiencing a chronic debilitating disease to consider, for one moment, that these are real people undergoing real pain associated with real illnesses,” he said. “This is an issue of compassion. It is about letting doctors and patients make medical treatment decisions without fear of arrest — nothing more.”
One of the major issues that the MCCC faces is that many individuals feel that if a law that legalizes medical marijuana is passed, problems with recreational drug use will rise within the state. “Many people who have never used medical marijuana as treatment and succumb to government propaganda are simply ignorant of its therapeutic effects,” he said. “The question of cannabis use is a scientific and medical issue, not a political one.”
According to a study administered by the MPP in September 2008 more than a decade after the passage of the nation’s first state medical marijuana law in California, data shows that no state with a medical marijuana law has experienced an increase in youth marijuana use since law enactment. All states have reported an overall decrease (some exceeding 50 percent in some age groups), which suggests that establishing a medical marijuana law within a state does not increase teen marijuana use.
[[ZJ]]Byrum responded to accusations that recreational drug use will slip into society if the proposal is passed by stating simply that “the MCCC is only advocating for the medical use of marijuana, nothing more.”
Elton also brings up the point that many historical figures took advantage of medical marijuana and its ability to provide pain relief, and that marijuana was used commonly used in drugs that many people are still familiar with today. “Queen Elizabeth used a mixture of cannabis and alcohol for her menstrual cramps, and prior to government prohibition in the 1940s, more than 50 percent of over-the-counter meds contained cannabis,” he said.
Although a majority of the state supports the medical marijuana initiative and the future of Proposal 1 looks hopeful, Gov. Jennifer Granholm does not endorse the cause. A handful of Michigan legislators do not support the medical marijuana proposal, which is not an issue of political affiliation. Some democrats are against the initiative, while some republicans are supporting the proposal.
Sen. Ron Jelinek is a conservative republican and is completely against the proposal to legalize medical marijuana. In his opinion, it could lead to more crime and drug abuse amongst recreational users. He feels that allowing patients the right to possess marijuana for medical purposes is the first step to completely legalizing marijuana use all together.
Conservative Rep. Fulton Sheen was opposed to the medical marijuana initiative until he heard patient testimonies at a conference. It is evident that political parties are crossing the lines of their usual boundaries in this election. But will Proposal 1 lead to a convergence between democrats and republicans — or will it push parties even farther apart?
Republican presidential candidate John McCain has expressed his loyalty to conservatives by stating his solid opposition to medical marijuana on his campaign website. “I believe that marijuana is a gateway drug. That is my view — I do not support the use of marijuana for medical purposes. I believe that there are other ways of relieving that pain and suffering,” he said.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s stance on medical marijuana can easily be dismissed as a political rather than a compassionate stance. “I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users,” Obama said on his Web site. “It’s not a good use of our resources.”
While many people believe other medicinal options should be considered before treating painful symptoms and illnesses with marijuana, many patients are unable to swallow a pill due to the common and excessive strain of nausea. Not only does medical marijuana relieve pain, but it is an easier form of treatment for a large amount of patients. Jarou said he has seen this often in cancer patients after they have undergone radiation. “For cancer patients experiencing nausea as the result of chemotherapy treatment, swallowing a pill is not the best option for them,” Jarou said.
A large component of the MCCC campaign is its emphasis that this initiative is customized to prevent the abuse of medical marijuana laws if they are legalized. Jarou says that government officials who are against medical marijuana need to be more aware and make sure they have their facts correct before developing any negative assumptions. “To those concerned about potential implementation issues, it is in no way, shape or form the intention of this campaign to advocate recreational marijuana usage. In fact, part of this initiative is specifically tailored to prevent abuse by creating a statewide registry system, complete with identification cards so that lay enforcement officials can easily distinguish doctor-approved patients from those who are breaking the law. I personally do not believe it is humane to deny ailing Michiganders access to medication of their choice based upon latent speculation,” he said.
As we all hold our breath and furiously watching the never ending feuding between political parties, election day cannot come soon enough. As you begin to consider which presidential candidate to vote for, do not forget to inform yourself of the other underlying issues that are on the ballot this November 4. Whether you choose to allow the Michigan medical marijuana to “toke” up the polls or fizzle out, remember this is a massive and influential election year. Go out and exercise your right to vote!

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