Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jul 2000
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Copyright: 2000 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Author: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services


PHOENIX - A plan to let voters decriminalize possession of marijuana will be
struck from the November ballot.

State Elections Director Jessica Funkhouser said yesterday that backers of
Proposition 201 did not have enough valid signatures on their petitions. The
measure needed 101,762 to qualify for the Nov. 7 ballot. A random sample of
the 142,624 signatures submitted showed that fewer than 101,762 signers were
registered to vote or lived where they said they did.

Michael Walz, chairman of Plants Are Medicine, the group backing the
initiative, said the effort will be renewed for the 2002 ballot. The backers
will exclude the questionable wording that drew immense opposition to this
year's version.

The measure's most visible provision would have reduced the penalty for
possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana to a maximum $500 fine.

No medical marijuana

Now, someone caught with that much could end up in prison, though few
first-time offenders actually wind up behind bars.

A more significant provision would have removed a legal restriction that has
precluded doctors from taking advantage of a 1996 law that technically
allows them to prescribe marijuana to patients with serious or
life-threatening diseases.

What that means, according to proponents, is that those who need marijuana
will remain unable to get it legally.

The 1996 statute, approved by voters, allows doctors to prescribe
otherwise-illegal drugs in certain circumstances. It includes the
requirement for a second opinion.

Foes of the measure insisted the voters did not understand what they were
doing and they persuaded lawmakers in 1997 to repeal key provisions of that
law. But voters reaffirmed their decision in 1998.

Despite that, doctors have not written prescriptions, at least not visibly.

"The federal authorities have threatened that they will not allow a doctor
(who prescribes marijuana) to see any Medicare patients," said Jeff Singer,
a Phoenix physician.

Federal officials also threatened to revoke the prescription-writing
privileges of doctors who take advantage of the Arizona law.

Singer and others filed suit in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeking
to have those threats lifted. That case is pending.

He noted, though, that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld
California's medical marijuana law, which prevents officials there from
closing down the distribution "clubs" that have sprung up to provide the

In that ruling, the judges said the government "has yet to identify any
interest it may have in blocking the distribution of cannabis to those with
medical needs."

There is a key difference in the laws of the two states: In Arizona doctors
must prescribe marijuana; the California law allows a doctor to simply
recommend marijuana.

For that reason proponents of this year's Proposition 201 sought to amend
Arizona law to allow recommendations instead of prescriptions.

Victory for prosecutors

Singer said changing Arizona law to match the one upheld in California would
end the problems that have kept Arizonans from getting medical marijuana and
eliminate the need for him to pursue his lawsuit.

The failure of Proposition 201 to qualify for the ballot is a victory for
prosecutors who did not want further changes in drug laws. They particularly
opposed one provision they said would exempt those who are certified as
needing medical marijuana from all drug laws, including ones that make it
illegal to sell heroin to children.

That provision caused the original backers of this year's petition drive to
abandon it in May. Walz, who specializes in defending people accused of drug
offenses, took up the cause, saying that the wording, though possibly
clumsy, did not allow people to sell drugs.

The victory for prosecutors came at a cost: Consultant Bob Grossfeld said
the anti-201 campaign is in debt despite a $10,000 donation from the Phoenix

Grossfeld said he does not know the exact amount of the debt but said it is
under $30,000.
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