Pubdate: Tue, 27 Aug 2002
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Copyright: 2002 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Author: Howard Fischer
Note: Star reporter Joseph Barrios contributed to this report


County prosecutors have kicked off their campaign to block further 
liberalization of state marijuana laws.

In separate press conferences, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and 
Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley came out strongly against Proposition 
203. That measure would allow those with a doctor's recommendation to have 
and use marijuana and decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug 
for everyone else.

Drug distribution can be linked to property crimes and violent crimes, 
LaWall said. She fears a "cottage industry" would develop in which doctors 
would offer the recommendations to more than their regular patients.

Romley agreed, saying the initiative goes far beyond letting doctors 
prescribe otherwise illegal drugs, measures approved by voters in 1996 and 
ratified in 1998.

"This is not about providing marijuana to the ill and dying," Romley said. 
"It's about legalization."

Existing law permits doctors to prescribe marijuana to terminal and 
seriously ill patients. But doctors have balked after the U.S. Drug 
Enforcement Agency threatened to revoke their prescription-writing privileges.

This year's measure requires only a doctor's recommendation. But it goes 
beyond that, allowing anyone with such a note to get free marijuana from 
the Department of Public Safety's stash of seized drugs.

"Our seniors don't get their drugs for free," noted Barnett Lotstein, an 
aide to Romley. Anyway, he said, there are no procedures for DPS to test 
the drugs to see if they are tainted with pesticides, leading to possible 
liability if someone who gets state-provided pot becomes ill.

Those without a prescription could still have their drugs seized. But the 
maximum penalty for possession of two ounces or less would be $250.

Romley said he would support the medical use of marijuana if it is approved 
by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "I just don't think medicine 
should be decided at the ballot box," he said.

Sam Vagenas, who is heading the pro-203 campaign, defended having the state 
provide the drug to those with a doctor's permission. He said it makes more 
sense than forcing these people to find it on the street.

"What we're trying to do is try to reduce the harm," Vagenas said. "We 
think we'll actually free up law enforcement to investigate more serious 
kinds of crime."

The events with LaWall and Romley also featured Joe Garagiola Jr., vice 
president and general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Garagiola said 
he and Jerry Colangelo, managing partner of the team, are "concerned about 
anything that would make, in this case, marijuana more accessible, and 
specifically more accessible to kids."

Garagiola said there is no mixed message in the Diamondbacks seeking to 
block medical use of marijuana and the fact that major league baseball 
allows its players to use androstenedione, banned by most other sports. The 
over-the-counter dietary supplement boosts testosterone levels.

"Baseball has had a policy in place for many years, in the minor leagues, 
that allows for testing for a whole range of drugs," he said. Garagiola 
said owners have been pushing for "some version of that" in the majors, but 
the issue is tied up in contract negotiations with the players.

The drug, known as "andro," remains permitted in baseball even though it is 
banned by the Olympics, the National Football League, professional tennis 
tours and the National College Athletic Association.
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