Pubdate: Sat, 17 Aug 2002
Source: Arizona Daily Sun (AZ)
Contact:  2002 Arizona Daily Sun
Author: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services


PHOENIX -- Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Alfredo Gutierrez broke with
most of his foes Friday, publicly backing an initiative to further
liberalize the state's drug laws. 

Gutierrez declared the war on drugs "a failure.'' He said Arizonans realize
that, having voted twice -- in 1996 and again in 1998 -- to preclude the
jailing of those with small amounts of any illegal drug. Instead, offenders
are to be put on probation and sent for drug counseling. 

Proposition 203 would go a step farther -- at least with marijuana -- and
say possession of up to two ounces is a civil violation punish- able by a
maximum fine of $250. 

What is causing the biggest stir, though, is another provision saying that
those who have a doctor's written recommendation can possess the weed
without fear of arrest or confiscation. And they could get their drugs --
legally -- from the state Department of Public Safety. 

That possibility bemused DPS Chief Dennis Garrett. 

"I've been in the business for 40 years," he said. "And to think that I
would end my career being one of the biggest drug distributors in the state,
I just can't go along with that." 

Virtually all of the other gubernatorial candidates have come out against
Proposi- tion 203 for exactly that reason. 

"I am certainly not in favor of the Department of Public Safety dealing
marijuana,'' Republican Betsey Bayless said Friday. Carol Springer, another
GOP candidate, called it "an absolutely ludicrous idea." 

The other Democrats in the race expressed similar sentiments. 

Mike Newcomb said decriminalization makes some sense. But Osterloh, a
doctor, said he cannot support having the DPS become a supplier. 

"Marijuana is clearly a drug and should be regulated as such,'' he said. 

Gutierrez, however, said he sees nothing wrong with the state providing
drugs to those with serious or terminal illnesses, citing his mother's death
of cancer. 

"She suffered unmercifully," he said. "If marijuana would have relieved her
pain, I would have bought it on the streets for her, state and federal laws
be damned." 

Garrett countered that there are other drugs available to provide pain
relief. Anyway, he said, if the state is to get in the business of providing
drugs, then some agency with expertise should handle it, like the Department
of Health Services. 

Democrat Mark Osterloh, another physician in the race, suggested that those
who claim there is a need for medical marijuana may not be telling the whole

"I think it's being used as an excuse to decriminalize it," he said.
Osterloh said if that's the aim, proponents should simply put that issue on
the ballot and not mix it up with medical issues. 

The only other candidate in support of the initiative is independent Richard

The whole issue of having DPS as drug distributors has cost the initiative
support on other fronts. Earlier this week, former U.S. Sen. Dennis
DeConcini, who had backed the 1996 and 1998 ballot measures, said he would
not support this year's version because of that provision.
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