Pubdate: Sat, 07 Oct 2000
Source: Gazette, The (CO)
Copyright: 2000 The Gazette
Contact:  Tell it to The Gazette, P.O.Box 1779, Colorado Springs CO 80901
Fax: (719) 636-0202
Author: Bill Radford


Coloradans who went to the polls two years ago may experience a bit of
deja vu when they vote next month.

Amendment 20, allowing medical use of marijuana, was on the ballot in
1998 as Amendment 19. But the vote was not counted. Just weeks before
the election, then-Secretary of State Vikki Buckley ruled that
proponents lacked the 54,242 valid signatures needed to qualify for
the ballot.

Backers sued after the election and in September of last year, a judge
ruled that proponents had gathered enough valid signatures and that
the proposal should be placed on this year's ballot.

Proponents say a vote for Amendment 20 is a vote for compassion and
that the proposal would simply give patients with certain debilitating
medical conditions an added treatment option. Opponents call it bad
medicine and bad law, noting that the proposal does not provide any
legal means by which a patient may obtain marijuana.

Those opponents, represented by Coloradans Against Legalizing
Marijuana, appear to have an uphill fight. Backers of the measure,
Coloradans for Medical Rights 2000, claim that exit polls from the '98
vote indicated the amendment would have passed with nearly 60 percent
of the vote in favor. And a poll released this week found 67 percent
of likely voters in favor of Amendment 20.

The proposal would amend the Colorado Constitution to legalize the
medical use of marijuana for patients who register with the state. A
state health agency would be designated by the governor to create and
maintain the confidential registry. Qualifying medical conditions
include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and multiple sclerosis, along with any
other medical condition approved by the state. To register, a person
would need a statement from a physician or pertinent medical records
indicating that the patient might benefit from marijuana.

Supporters cite research that shows marijuana may ease pain and nausea
and helps stimulate appetite in AIDS patients. Opponents argue that
patients already have access to Marinol, a prescription drug that
contains a synthetic version of THC, the main active ingredient in
marijuana. With smoked marijuana, there's no way to control the dosage
because potency varies from plant to plant. Plus, opponents note,
smoking carries additional health risks.

Several medical groups have joined the battle against Amendment 20,
including the Colorado Medical Society, the Colorado Dental
Association, Colorado Academy of Family Practitioners, the National
Multiple Sclerosis Society and the American Glaucoma Society.

Various law-enforcement agencies also are opposed. Besides health
arguments, opponents say passage of Amendment 20 could send a wrong
message to Colorado's children about marijuana. The state already has
the highest rate of marijuana use in the country, according to a
survey released last month.

"These people aren't physicians that are putting this through," says
Dr. Frank Sargent, a Denver urologist and co-chairman of Coloradans
Against Legalizing Marijuana. "It's a group of people who have some
different philosophies as far as legalizing drugs."

But Coloradans for Medical Rights points out that using marijuana for
other than medical purposes would still be illegal. The amendment also
prohibits the use of marijuana in public places and limits the amount
that a patient or the patient's primary caregiver could possess.

Coloradans for Medical Rights' campaign is largely financed by
California-based Americans for Medical Rights. The bulk of that
group's money comes from three wealthy businessmen: New York financier
and philanthropist George Soros, Ohio insurance executive Peter Lewis
and John Sperling, founder of the for-profit University of Phoenix.
The three have bankrolled similar efforts in Oregon and other states.
Soros - labeled the "Daddy Warbucks of drug legalization" by former
Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano Jr. - says he
is not for legalizing drugs but merely backs a "saner drug policy."

Luther Symons, a spokesman for Coloradans for Medical rights, says it
was the Colorado group that approached the California group, not the
other way around. "We feel fortunate that we found people who believe
in our issue and were willing to financially back us.

"The bottom line is this is Colorado folks who really believe this
needs to be here."


Amendment 20


Summary: Would allow patients diagnosed with a serious illness, and
their caregivers, to legally possess marijuana for medical use.


Distribution of marijuana would remain illegal. The amendment allows
for the possession of 2 ounces of usable marijuana and six marijuana

A state agency would be established to set up a confidential registry
of patients and caregivers legally possessing marijuana. Qualifying
medical conditions include cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, some
neurological and movement disorders such as multiple sclerosis and any
other medical condition approved by the state. To register, a person
would need a statement from a physician indicating that the patient
might benefit from marijuana.

Employers are not required to allow medical use of marijuana in the
workplace. Health insurance companies would not be required to
reimburse patients for medical use of marijuana.


Pro: Studies have shown marijuana relieves pain without the side
effects of synthetic drugs. The measure provides for sufficient state
oversight of the medicinal use of marijuana while preventing
recreational use.

Con: Using marijuana to relieve pain is not necessary because other
prescription drugs with the same active ingredients are available.
Patients would have no control over the dosage because potency varies
by plant. Voter approval would sidestep the usual process by which
medicines are regulated.


Coloradans for Medical Rights 2000, (303) 753-3625. Web site:


Coloradans Against Legalizing Marijuana, (303) 221-5552. Web site:
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