By: Nicole Aber
Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 28th, 2009

Patients looking to use medical marijuana have just won one more battle.

The federal government will no longer prosecute medical marijuana patients or caregivers in the 13 states that have legalized the drug for medicinal purposes. That’s a move that medical marijuana advocates in Michigan say will allow pain-stricken citizens to seek treatment with less of an emotional burden.

While the new policy will not change federal marijuana laws, many proponents of the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes say the new guidelines released by President Barack Obama’s administration are a step forward for medical marijuana initiatives.

In a statement released by the U.S. Department of Justice last week, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden wrote that the federal regulation of marijuana in states that have legalized it for medicinal purposes has been complicated by inconsistencies between federal and state laws. He also wrote that the new guidelines — under which the federal prosecutors will no longer intervene — reflect a re-evaluation of the federal government’s use of resources.

Michigan became the 13th state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes when 63 percent of its residents voted to pass Proposal 1 in November 2008. The legislative initiative, which went into effect in April of this year, allows Michigan residents to use marijuana to treat chronic illnesses and debilitating diseases, but does not identify a way for both patients and caregivers to legally obtain the drug.

Last week’s change to federal regulations offered some encouragement for medical marijuana patients and their supporters, according to Dennis Hayes, an Ann Arbor criminal defense attorney and co-founder of the Ann Arbor Medical Marijuana Patient Collective.

Hayes said the move will lead to greater tolerance and acceptance of the drug’s use in medicine and it could help erode the drug’s stigma.

“Once people are aware this is not a boogeyman drug like they’ve tried to make it for 50 years, the tolerance of it goes up,” Hayes said. “Once they know somebody who’s a medical marijuana patient, who receives some comfort from the chemotherapy or the HIV, or any of the other debilitating conditions that qualify with the law, people will be more informed.”

“The more informed you are, the more likely you are to figure out that the government’s been lying to us for 50 fucking years,” he added.

One of the most important effects of this new federal policy is the peace of mind it will give medical marijuana patients and caregivers, said Paul Stanford, who started the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation. One of the foundation’s medical clinics, which was established in Southfield, Mich. after the proposal was passed, helps patients assess their medical marijuana needs.

“They can sleep a lot easier knowing that the federal government isn’t going to investigate or prosecute as long as they’re in compliance with the Michigan medical marijuana law,” Stanford said. “That’s a large relief for medical marijuana patients.”

In states like California, where medical marijuana is legalized and dispensaries — or marijuana stores — are allowed in Los Angeles County, more people have been prosecuted for using the drug for medicinal purposes because of federal government intervention, according to Hayes.

Cases in which patients or caregivers possess more than 100 marijuana plants or 100 pounds of the drug are referred to the federal government from the local or state police, Hayes said.

But these federal cases have not been as prevalent in Michigan since the law just came into effect six months ago, Hayes said, though there have been cases of state law violations.