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High Stakes

Now three years old, Michigan's medical marijuana law is still getting sorted out

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A

On the wrong end of the clampdown on medical marijuana: Barb Agro with a photo of her late husband, Sal.


Marijuana has twice played a role in bringing significant changes to the life of Barb Agro.

The first time was a blessing.

A former police dispatcher, the 71-year-old great-grandmother from Lake Orion suffers from arthritis in both of her knees. 

"It's really bad," she says.

Because she's allergic to aspirin, she used Tylenol to ease the pain for years. "But the amount I had to take was so much," she says. "I worried about it damaging my kidneys."

Then her son Nick gave her a brownie made with marijuana when she visited him at his home in Colorado several years ago. And her life immediately changed for the better.

"It was like a godsend," is how she describes the effect the controversial medicine had on her. "It was amazing. I could sleep without any problem because I wasn't in any pain."

So she persuaded her husband Sal to give it a try. A retired GM worker, he'd also spent four decades coaching youth sports. 

"That gruff Italian guy who's really a big marshmallow," is the way he's described in one newspaper article.

But all those years of throwing footballs and baseballs took their toll. He had bone spurs on his neck and shoulders. "He couldn't lift his arms over his head," says Barb.

The pot worked for him too. 

So the views of this hard-nosed coach and his wife, who had spent years working around cops, changed.

"Talk about doing a complete turnaround," Barb says. 

Like most parents, they had taken a tough stance regarding drugs when their three sons were in their teens. "We told them we better not find any of that stuff in the house," recalls Barb, talking with the Metro Times from her winter home in Wildwood, Fla.

Now she's a convicted felon, and her husband of 45 years is dead from a heart attack suffered a week after Oakland County narcotics officers wearing masks and wielding weapons raided their home and confiscated 17 plants the Agros believed were being grown legally under the medical marijuana law voters approved in November 2008.

As the third anniversary of that ballot measure's passage is being marked this week, medical marijuana proponents are trying to figure out how to deal with a series of setbacks, as municipalities, police, prosecutors and the courts do their best to put a chokehold on the law.

Leading the way is state Attorney General Bill Schuette.

While still serving as an appellate court judge, Schuette helped create the group Citizens Protecting Michigan's Kids to spearhead the campaign to defeat that act, known as Proposal 1 on the ballot. That effort proved to be a spectacular failure, with 63 percent of the state's voters disregarding the dire warnings being sounded by Schuette and others opposed to allowing patients access to pot.

Since being elected Michigan's chief law enforcement officer one year ago, he's acquired newfound power to continue waging the battle against medical marijuana, the patients who use it, the caregivers who grow it, and the dispensaries where it is sold. 

As attorney general, Schuette is able to set the tone for cops and prosecutors across the state. And the legal opinions that he writes, though lacking the force of law, are given careful consideration by the state's judges and help inform their decisions.

What Schuette's critics say is that he construes the law in the narrowest possible terms, with his opposition to marijuana bordering on an obsession. As a result, patient access to medicine is being curtailed and there is a growing sense among some that, rather than providing them with protection, the law has become a kind of trap for those who adhere to the spirit of the measure but don't follow it to the letter.

"It's gotten really scary for a lot of people," says Brandy Zink, who is with the group Americans for Safe Access. "For some, the feeling is that having a medical marijuana card is like having a target on your back. Because of what the state is doing, they are considering going back underground."

Others, she says, are looking for ways to fight back.

The Agros can be counted among them.

 

House of cards

After the state's medical marijuana law took effect, Sal and Barb Agro became certified patients. Rather than smoke it, they preferred to ingest their medicine in baked goods made with marijuana butter. They also used topical marijuana oil, rubbing it on sore joints to help alleviate the pain.

One problem with the law is there is no explicit provision allowing for these types of products. It is one of many so-called gray areas that have thrown a cloud of confusion over the whole issue.

In fact, few things about the law seem indisputable. But this much is certain: Patients who receive a recommendation from a doctor and register with the state are allowed to grow as many as 12 plants and possess as much as 2.5 ounces of smokable marijuana.

Those unable to grow their own pot can designate someone else to be their "caregiver." Caregivers, like patients, must be certified by the state. Each caregiver can have as many as five patients. Because caregivers can also be patients, it is possible that a single caregiver with the maximum number of patients can have has many as 72 plants growing at any one time.

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