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October 14, 2008 -- Grand Rapids Press (MI)

U.S. Deputy Drug Czar Says Proposal 1 Is 'About Dope, Not About Medicine'

By Ted Roelofs, The Grand Rapids Press

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

GRAND RAPIDS -- Listening to opponents of Proposal 1 list their arguments, Kentwood resident Deborah Brink had a different view on the statewide ballot question that would approve medically legalized marijuana.

In 1979, Brink became violently ill while undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. She threw up four times an hour for four hours a day, five days a week.

Nothing she tried to relieve the nausea worked -- until she turned to marijuana.

"I did not throw up at all," recalled Brink, now 50. "You can't say for sure, but there's a possibility it saved my life."

But in a Monday news conference, law enforcement officials, including U.S. Deputy Drug Czar Scott Burns, called Proposal 1 dangerous and wrong.

"Proposal 1 is bad for Michigan and it is bad for America," Burns said.

"This issue is about dope, not about medicine."

Burns maintained the ballot proposal is being pushed by wealthy individuals from outside Michigan, who have backed similar proposals in other states.

"They are funded by millions of dollars from millionaires who live in Washington, D.C. to hire people to come to Michigan to try and con voters from the state to pass it."

Burns and Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Bill Schuette contend the measure would open the door to the "pot shops" and smoking clubs that are common in California. That state legalized marijuana for medical use in 1996.

They were joined at the news conference by a group of law enforcement officials, including Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma.

"This proposed statute, it's a doozy," Schuette said.

If the measure passes, Michigan law would allow doctors to recommend marijuana for patients with cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS and other conditions the state agrees are covered under the law.

Those patients would register with the state and could legally buy, grow and use small amounts of marijuana to relieve pain, nausea, appetite loss and other symptoms.

Similar medical-marijuana laws have been enacted in a dozen states in recent years, most by ballot initiative.

While the measure would remove state-level penalties for registered patients using marijuana, it wouldn't create legal dispensaries for the drug, nor would it affect the federal ban on marijuana.

Backers of Proposal 1 contend that opponents are twisting the truth to frighten people.

"The opposition is using scare tactics out of desperation, which does not diminish the fact that medical marijuana can safely and effectively relieve the pain and suffering of seriously ill patients," said Dianne Byrum, spokeswoman for the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care, sponsor of the ballot initiative.

"They are just throwing things up in the air and hoping something will stick."

Byrum said Michigan, unlike California, does not allow the opening of pot shops.

"This law is nothing like California."

Manistee resident and retired physician George Wagner, 73, said his wife, Beverly, obtained relief from marijuana in 2007 as she was fighting ovarian cancer. She died in July 2007.

She experienced nausea, vomiting and tried "all the available" legal medications, Wagner said.

"After two breaths of marijuana smoke, her symptoms disappeared. It was as dramatic relief of a symptom that I've seen after 30 years of practicing medicine.

"It's just outrageous that such an effective medication cannot be available legally."

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