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Medical Marijuana Debate Demands Decision by City Commission

Daily Dose 2010-12-07 0 comments

ACLU lawsuit reveals legal loopholes that need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

By Laura Houser, published in Birmingham Patch

This was a big week for breaking news in Birmingham.  Perhaps the biggest news (even bigger than a bank robbery in Kroger) though, is the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against the city of Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Livonia for breaking with the 2008 Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.

Involving two Birmingham residents and a city ordinance that leaves more questions than answers, even a newcomer can tell this problem is a long time in the making and should be addressed decisively and in a timely manner by city leadership.

Robert and Linda Lott are Birmingham residents, and I haven’t spoken with them. But both are registered with the Michigan Department of Community Health as medical marijuana patients under the MMMA. Robert has glaucoma; Linda has multiple sclerosis. Both use medical marijuana to relieve the pain they experience daily as symptoms of their diseases. With Robert’s workplace in Livonia, Linda’s social club in Bloomfield Hills and their home in Birmingham, the pair are suing all three cities for local ordinances they say both violate the MMMA and their rights to control their pain.

According to Mayor Gordon Rinschler, the MMMA has several problems associated with it and, considering the number of lawsuits and legislative confusion concerning the issue. There is some stigma attached to marijuana use —medical, legal or not.

And so, let’s turn to the law. Marijuana use is prohibited by the federal Controlled Substance Act, and according to Birmingham’s 2010 ordinance No. 2026, any activity prohibited by federal law is banned in Birmingham.

But what about the MMMA? The MMMA allows and provides protection for the medical use of marijuana for patients and their caregivers when used to treat “debilitating medical conditions.” The MMMA also states that registered patients and their caregivers “shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner” for growing, possessing and using marijuana. In addition, the lawsuit points out that states that allow for medical marijuana are “not required to enforce federal law or prosecute people for engaging in activities prohibited by federal law.”

Let’s not forget we are talking about individuals who may have debilitating and painful conditions.  Linda Lott, 61, is an MS patient, a wheelchair user and blind. According to MS Active Source, multiple sclerosis, or MS, causes its patients to feel numbing, burning, tingling and pain in various parts of the body, including the face. MS also causes muscle tension and spasms, the symptom Linda said marijuana helps the best to control.

I’m no expert on the MMMA, or even the case to legalize medical marijuana nationwide. My feelings on the issue are wrapped up in sympathy for the patients and a cognizance of the law, both of which seem to rule in the Lotts’ favor. The legal status of medical marijuana in Washington is important, and should be addressed as more states legalize the practice.

However, what is most frustrating is the ordinance No. 2026. Enacted in the wake of the MMMA, the ordinance doesn’t explicitly mention marijuana, but is clearly a response to the law. Falling back on federal law is an easy way for communities to wash their hands of responsibility, but the City Commission should have foreseen that a challenge would have arisen sooner or later.

There are too many legal loopholes concerning this issue, and Birmingham should make a decisive effort to close them. The City Commission needs to make a decision on where it stands on medical marijuana; if ordiance No. 2026 is intended as a direct challenge to state law, then the commission should say so. If not, the commission should clarify its statutes. No matter which way the decision goes, Birmingham residents deserve an answer.