Skip to main content

Feature: Michigan Medical Marijuana Initiative Faces Organized Opposition

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #556)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Michigan's Proposal 1, the medical marijuana initiative sponsored by the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care, appears headed for easy victory according to recent polls, but now it is seeing organized opposition, including visits from the drug czar and one of his minions to urge Michiganders to reject the proposal.

When they go to the polls on November 4, Michigan voters will see the following ballot language and be asked to vote yes or no on whether the measure should be adopted:

The proposed law would:

  • Permit physician approved use of marijuana by registered patients with debilitating medical conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, MS and other conditions as may be approved by the Department of Community Health.

  • Permit registered individuals to grow limited amounts of marijuana for qualifying patients in an enclosed, locked facility.
  • Require Department of Community Health to establish an identification card system for patients qualified to use marijuana and individuals qualified to grow marijuana.
  • Permit registered and unregistered patients and primary caregivers to assert medical reasons for using marijuana as a defense to any prosecution involving marijuana.

If passed by the voters, the measure would make Michigan the 13th medical marijuana state and, significantly, the first in the Midwest. Currently, all the medical marijuana states are in the West or the Northeast.

marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
That could explain why the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) is concerned enough to send its top people to Michigan, but at the state level, the organized opposition is a collection of the usual suspects from law enforcement, moral crusader, cultural conservative, and staid medical groups resorting to the same old medical marijuana bogey-man arguments always made by defenders of the status quo.

State opposition emerged late last month with the public coming out of Citizens Protecting Michigan's Kids. The group's spokesman, state appellate judge Bill Schuette, has been holding news conferences, this week in conjunction with drug czar Walters, and penning op-eds, in order to stoke fear about the initiative through a barrage of distortions, disinformation, misinformation and fabrications.

Schuette is especially fond of warning that -- gasp! -- if the initiative passes, Michigan will turn into California with its "chaos, pot dealers in storefronts and millions of dollars being dumped into the criminal black market," as he put it in the op-ed piece. The Michigan initiative "is just like the California law," he wrote, even though the Michigan law is much more restrictive on who can become a medical marijuana patient and does not provide for medical marijuana dispensaries.

That particular distortion is even embedded in the group's web site URL,, although, again, the Michigan initiative does not allow for dispensaries.

Schuette and company are also hitting the theme that passing the initiative will lead to an orgy of teen marijuana use. "Law enforcement officials in California point to their state's marijuana law as a cause for the dramatic increase in drug use among high school students," he wrote, reprising comments along the same line he made at an earlier press conference.

Again, Schuette was spouting misinformation. According to a June 2008 report from the Marijuana Policy Project based on official state and national survey data, teen marijuana use has gone down in all grades in California and almost across the board in all other medical marijuana states in the 12 years since California passed its medical marijuana law.

"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," Dianne Byrum, spokeswoman for the Michigan Coalition told the Associated Press earlier this month in response to the opposition claims. "They are just throwing things up in the air and hoping something will stick," she said, emphasizing that Michigan's initiative does not allow for the opening of "pot shops." "This law is nothing like California," she said flatly.

On Monday, the feds arrived. Deputy drug czar Scott Burns flew in to hold a press conference with Schuette and a roomful of law enforcement officials.

"Proposal 1 is bad for Michigan and it is bad for America," Burns said. "This issue is about dope, not about medicine."

Burns also argued that the initiative is backed by wealthy individuals who have supported similar measures in other states. "They are funded by millions of dollars from millionaires who live in Washington, DC, to hire people to come to Michigan to try and con voters from the state to pass it," he said without apparently noting the irony that he, if not a millionaire himself, had come from Washington, DC, representing an agency with a multi-billion dollar budget to tell Michigan voters what to do.

On Tuesday, the big dog himself, drug czar Walters showed up. In a Lansing press conference that same day, Walters repeated some of Schuette's misinformation about the possible increase of teen marijuana use and his deceptive comparisons with California.

Walters also said that the initiative "gives people who are addicted a way to say I have a medical problem" to obtain more of the herb. He also argued that marijuana, unlike opiate pain medications, is unregulated with varying potency, and that a pharmaceutical form of marijuana, Marinol, is already on the market. "To say we need to smoke a weed to make people high because that's the best we can do for them is an abomination," the Michigan native declared.

But the emergence of Michigan Citizens and the arrival of the drug czar and his deputy may be too little too late. The measure was well ahead in the most recent poll, and the state press has balanced the dire warnings of Walters and his local counterparts with interviews with patients and initiative supporters, so it is unclear how much ground the opposition offensive can gain.

For Bruce Mirken, communications director for MPP, which has confronted ONDCP interference with state initiatives in the past and which is supporting the Michigan initiative, the drug czar's schtick seemed time-worn and grasping.

"We're about equal parts amused and horrified," he said. "It's the same old disinformation campaign at taxpayers' expense that Walters has done again and again. This time, not only did he go to Michigan on our dime, he even brought along a medical cannabis vending machine the DEA seized a few months ago from a dispensary in Los Angeles, even though the Michigan initiative doesn't allow for dispensaries, let alone vending machines. It's the Walters Disinformation Tour 2008," Mirken groaned.

The campaign of false attacks on the initiative suggests that the opposition is desperate, said Mirken. "In some ways, that's a good sign for our side," he argued. "They don't have any actual facts and are reduced to making stuff up."

The voters of Michigan will have the final say in a little more than two weeks from now. Stay tuned.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

I remember a Dragnet episode where Sgt. Friday gets it right. He told someone that the police enforced the laws the people made. They didn't oppose changes to those laws. LE as citizens can oppose legislation but shouldn't do so in uniform.

Fri, 10/17/2008 - 10:08am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I had not thought about it from that point of view before. In a way it is similar to the president hiding behind Gen. Patraeus, in his defense of another war.

Why are these men, whose jobs are to uphold the law, or to carry out their orders, getting so involved in politics?

Wed, 10/22/2008 - 11:31pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Long time Re-Legalization activist Bruce Cain will be speaking at the Trumbull-Plex in Detroit about Michigan becomng the 13th State to Legalize Medical Marijuana and will also talk about the final solution: the MERP Model for Marijuana Re-Legalization.

Goto his "New Age Citizen" webstie for more information:

Fri, 10/17/2008 - 1:03pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

As a former owner of one of the 183 registered medical marijuana dispensaries (a so-called "pot shop") in Los Angeles, I can attest personally to the community benefits of these marijuana distribution outlets.

Every proper dispensary employs a security guard, installs surveillance cameras, and keeps a watchful eye over its neighborhood. Dispensaries, which are often open until 11pm or midnight to better serve their working patients, employ security guards who watch over not only the dispensaries but other nearby businesses as well.

Many help to revitalize decaying commercial areas. All pay the same taxes other businesses pay. They provide solid jobs in a worsening market. They are in fact creating an entirely new, dynamic industry.

Imagine if every current illegal marijuana dealer had to register his business with the city, pay taxes, and ID his clients. Even if nothing else changed, would that NOT be an improvement over the current situation?

Fri, 10/17/2008 - 6:26pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

If their so-called "anti-drug" ideas are so popular why can't these special interest groups like Calvina Fay's Drug Free America Foundation and her 100 + subsidiary groups make it without being almost totally funded by ONDCP's welfare checks?

Why can't their ideas and mission compete in the private sector like Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project?

The mission of these wacko "anti-drug" groups pretends to be "protecting the children" but when was the last time a reputable parent organization actually came out in strong support of them?

Calvina Fay doesn't have children herself but more than half the organizations supporting Citizens Protecting Michigan's Kids are "ghost groups" run by her. What a joke and insult to parents!!

Sat, 10/18/2008 - 7:36pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

This is one of those things that can't be done half-assed. If only certain people can smoke cannabis legally, those who can't and are without a conscious will continue to steal it from legitimate patients. People who don't really benefit from its use will continue to seek prescriptions for it. The black market incentive must be taken away completely. The ONLY way to do that is to legalize it! I personally think it cannabis has many more health benefits than are recognized by medical cannabis laws, and I know that its benefits are not limited to terminal patients. Smoking cannabis reveals the world for what it really is, and shows people what's really important. It promotes peace in the mind of the user. THAT is why some imbeciles don't want it legalized. The only problems associated with cannabis are due to the black market and the drug war, period. I think I'm preaching to the choir here...

Sun, 10/19/2008 - 11:50pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

you cannot legislate morality! I'm tired of the REALLY dangerous violent people getting "anger management counseling" while recreational users or even addicts (who have a disease) rot in jail

I'm tired of all the muggins burglary street hookers and even murders associated with the WoD.

half a million die of tobacco each year maybe 50K from alcohol.

Read your history books-prohibition does NOT work!!

Mon, 10/20/2008 - 5:08pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

MI Proposal 1--JUST SAY NO (just like you tell your kids, duh!)

I did an "Ask an Attorney" on Michigan's proposal 1, the "medical marijuana" proposal. There are parts of it that disturb me, i.e., the automated interpretation of a registry renewal, it does not specify protection of minors, or the public, it does not state any reasonable limitations as to the existing issue of substance abuse offenders (juvenile or otherwise) being in the presence of "registered" users, and (my opinion) will open the courts to a boatload of litigation should they not have the funds to enact the laws necessary to address these and other vagueness that will create issues.

If you don't have a copy of either proposal they can be viewed at, then click the link at the bottom for detail.

Here's his thoughtful response:
First, I have a prejudice against any laws/constitutional amendments that are presented in a general ballot. In my personal opinion, the last good one was Proposal A - the property tax increase limitation amendment. If it is a constitutional amendment, it would take a constitutional amendment to make a change if it turns out that the first amendment did not work as expected/presented (e.g. the recent use of the constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman to interfere with private rights to contract for health care benefits - going well beyond the presentation, and interfering with private contractual terms). Another case in point is the Reform Michigan Government Now proposal that did not make it onto the ballot.

This is a little easier, because it is not a constitutional amendment, but a legislative act. What the legislature is doing here is abdicating. They are elected to make the policy decisions on what laws should be in effect in the state. They are effectively saying, "we think this is a good thing, but we don't want to take the heat for passing it."

As to the act - of course there will be litigation arising from it if it is passed. With the current makeup of the MI Supreme Court being very textualist in nature, and interpreting acts exactly as written, there are potential problems with this act. For example, the act permits a qualifying person to smoke marihuana, provided the person is not "on any form of public transportation; or in any public place." Sec. 7(b)(3)(A) and (B).

Is a private home a private place regardless of who is present? This is not specified, and would be left to the Courts. If the home is determined a private place regardless of who is present, but children are present when marihuana is smoked, the act does not prevent prosecution for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. It does establish a higher burden on a spouse or the government for proof. Sec. 4(c) says, "A person shall not be denied custody or visitation of a minor for acting in accordance with this act, unless the person's behavior is such that it creates an unreasonable danger to the minor that can be clearly articulated and substantiated." Now it has to be "an unreasonable danger" as opposed to "the best interests of the child" standard currently in place.

While this is not a constitutional amendment, will the legislature be willing to modify it if the Courts interpret it in a way that most would deem unacceptable? Probably not, because they were afraid to pass it as a strictly legislative act in the first place. Then we are stuck with it, as written. The better way to deal with the issue would be for the legislature to get off their collective butts and either pass a law, that can later be easily amended, if necessary, or reject it. Instead, they are passing the buck."

Vote No and ask them to come back with a better prepared proposal. Or better yet, get the legislature to do their jobs.

Ms. Byrum dissappoints this time, sorry to say. She's been a favorite of mine in the past.

Thu, 10/23/2008 - 3:08pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that this proposal would be great.Medicinal or not. Marijuana is not addictive like the man made painkillers that are happily prescribed by our (legal drug dealers)doctors.I'm sure that everyone knows of someone who died or was hooked on Vicodin,Percocet,etc.Even Cindy McCain.I'm sure that she didn't ask for her addiction.Do you ever see tragic stories about someone on marijuana? No! Only the one's that are legal like alcohol and the drug in cough medicine to make Meth.Which one is worst? Even cigarettes are legal and killing more non-smokers.If marijuana would be legal like it is in the Netherlands crimes would drop dramatically.It's proven in their system along with legal prostitution.If it's in your face every day most people especially the young one's wouldn't think that they have to rebel.THINK GREEN!!!!

Fri, 10/24/2008 - 1:35pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

As a survivor of Straight INC., which is now known as the 'Drug Free America Foundation', and a registered voter from the state of Michigan, it gives me great pleasure to vote HELL YES on proposal 1.

I'm voting YES, and I don't even smoke it.

To Mel and Betty Sembler (founders of Straight INC., now DFAF)

Keep your crappy policies the hell out of my state, quit spending that blood money you made off my back. You WILL have to meet God someday. I'd hate to be you and have to answer for the horrendous ways your ware-houses tortured 1000's of young people. God knows what you did, though you'll never admit your own guilt in this life, you will however have to deal with this some day.

I think it's great that God created a plant that can help some people when they are too sick to handle other drugs that the pharmaceuticals manufacture.

Sat, 10/25/2008 - 9:16am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I am only in my 20's and I have a severe nerve injury. It is so obvious that all those that are so eager to say no to legalizing Marijuana don't give a damn about all those that are in massive pain every second of their life. How can you be so damn cruel to deny a treatment that could essentially allow someone to live to see another day..? There are patients out here suffering and in intense agony, trying to survive devastating medical conditions. All those that are saying NO to this about walking in our shoes for a day? Today its one of us with a life threatening illness..cancer, HIV, neuropathy, etc. but tomorrow it could be one of your loved ones. The medical potential that this plant could have is amazing for those that are in dire need of a miracle.

Tue, 11/04/2008 - 2:23am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that I would rather have people smoking some pot rather that popping pills like oxycotin ( bad spelling). If it will help them not hurt as much, and not inhibit their actions and judgement as bad as some of these narcotics do. It seems that the pot will be a lot safer for not only the user, but also for the guy driving next to him.

Tue, 11/04/2008 - 10:37am Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.