November 28, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Nolan Finley

We can't put the genie back in the bong

Clarence Tabb, Jr. / The Detroit News)

This was as predictable as the sunrise — Michigan voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana, and two years later, no one can seem to decide who's a patient and who's a pothead.

More than 60,000 residents have applied for medical marijuana certificates, the ticket to being able to use pot legally, and even grow small amounts at home; roughly half have received them. Wow, that's a lot of suffering in our state.

Perhaps when voters passed the proposal in 2008 they envisioned cancer and glaucoma patients toking in the restricted confines of hospitals and clinics, and getting sanitized pot in carefully measured doses from licensed pharmacies.

That's not exactly how it's worked out. Therapeutic pot is being marketed about the same way as the everyday let's-get-high-for-the-hell-of-it pot. It's being grown in basements under hot lights and pushed to patients through head shops and person-to-person deals that have the law enforcement community struggling to figure out what's legal and what isn't.

The answer seems to depend on where you live. Oakland County, for example, is busy putting the pot stores out of business and cracking down on the home growers; Ann Arbor has 23 medical marijuana stores that go unmolested by authorities.

And it's not just cops and judges who are confused. Employers have fired medical marijuana patients for failing drug tests, even though the law prohibits that, and landlords have evicted users for violating no-dope clauses in their leases.

You don't have to be struggling with the effects of chemotherapy to qualify for a certificate. The medical marijuana industry has physicians lined up to certify patients with mysterious pains, anxiety and other ailments often visible only to the sufferer. The law isn't very specific on the diseases covered. Chronic headaches can get you approved, and who doesn't have headaches these days?

Kids roam downtown events passing out cards with 800-numbers and websites where you can get certificates. This isn't what voters envisioned, but it's what they've got now, and putting the genie back in the bong is impossible.

Critics of medical marijuana have called it the first step toward legalizing all pot use. They're right. And it should be.

It's absurd for Michigan to still be arresting and jailing pot growers and users whose only real crime is that they were too stupid to apply for a medical marijuana certificate.

Give it up. Stop wasting taxpayer money in a futile fight to keep marijuana away from the people who want to use it. If current trends continue, most pot users will soon have a license to smoke anyway.

Better to focus our efforts on bringing the marijuana growers out of their basements and onto the tax rolls. Michigan could use the estimated $32 million in annual tax revenue it would generate, and the untold savings in law enforcement and Corrections costs.

Nolan Finley is editorial page editor of The News. Reach him at Read more at and watch him at 8:30 p.m. Fridays on Am I Right? on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.

A teacher demonstrates how to manicure a marijuana plant at the Med Grow ... (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
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