Montel Williams

Talk show host Montel Williams, who uses medical marijuana to treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, could have received up to a year in state prison as a result of being caught with a small amount of marijuana in Detroit’s Metro Airport Monday night.

According to news reports, Williams was detained briefly after security screeners found that he was carrying a small amount of marijuana. He reportedly was fined $100 and allowed to board his flight to New York, where his nationally syndicated talk show is taped. A statement released by Williams’ office indicated that he used marijuana on the advice of his physician to treat the chronic, constant pain caused by MS.

“A large body of medical evidence has documented marijuana’s benefits in treatment of chronic pain in many circumstances, including MS, where conventional treatments often fail,” said Bruce Mirken, director of communications at the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project. “An article in the May 2003 issue of The Lancet Neurology noted that marijuana is so effective at treating pain that it could become ‘the aspirin of the 21st century.’ To treat someone as a criminal for using this medicine to ease the pain caused by a devastating disease like MS is obscene.”

If the news reports are accurate, Williams could have faced much more serious punishment. Under Michigan law, possession of any amount of marijuana can bring up to a year in prison, with no exception for medical use. Federal law also provides up to a year in prison, again with no medical exception.

“To throw Montel Williams in jail for using medical marijuana would have been cruel and pointless, and we are grateful it did not happen, but no one battling a terrible illness should have to face such penalties. Michigan law and federal law must change to end this war on the sick.”

The Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care has submitted signatures for a ballot measure that would give medical marijuana users an exemption from the city’s anti-drug ordinance. If the proposal is certified, it will appear on the next citywide ballot unless the city council passes it into law within 30 days.

With more than 13,000 members nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana — both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. To this end, MPP focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors.

Posted by A. Shapiro
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