Pubdate: Fri, 23 Jul 2004
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)



Three medical marijuana initiatives will go before voters in November.
State election officials in Montana and Oregon certified that
initiatives in those states have qualified for the ballot. Seven
states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon,
Washington -- have passed workable medical marijuana laws through the
initiative process, while voters in Arizona in 1996 passed a measure
that has been unworkable. In Hawaii and Vermont, medical marijuana has
come though legislative action, while Maryland legislators passed a
lesser bill allowing medicinal use to be used as a defense in
marijuana possession cases.

In addition to Montana, Oregon, and Columbia, Missouri,
marijuana-related initiatives are now confirmed in Alaska, where
regulation is the issue; medical marijuana is on the ballot in Detroit
(August vote), Ann Arbor and Berkeley, and Oakland will vote on
"lowest priority" initiatives directing law enforcement to work on
anything other than low-level marijuana offenses instead. The Oakland
measure also directs city officials to support changes in public
policy that move toward a regulated marijuana market. Last-ditch
efforts to get on the ballot in Arkansas (medical marijuana) and
Nevada (regulation) are still underway.

In Oregon, the office of Secretary of State Bill Bradbury announced
Monday that the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act II (OMMA2) had made the
ballot. OMMA2 barely squeaked by, turning in 77,782 valid signatures.
It needed 75,630 to qualify. Petitioners had turned in about 90,000
signatures earlier in the year, then turned in another 28,000 last
month just to be safe. But with nearly 30% of the signatures
disqualified, it still ended up being very close.

OMMA2 would amend the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act passed by voters in
1998 by creating a system of nonprofit dispensaries for medical
marijuana patients under the regulatory eye of the Health Division of
the Oregon Department of Human Services. Such dispensaries could
legally sell medical marijuana to qualified patients -- a
groundbreaking move if passed.

The act would also increase the amount of marijuana patients can
possess from three ounces to six pounds and increase the number of
patients for whom caregivers can grow. OMMA2 would also ease
regulations to make it easier for patients to qualify for the program.
Currently, some 9,000 Oregon residents have registered with the state.

"We need OMMA2 because sick and dying people cannot be expected to
produce their own medicine," said John Sajo, director of Voter Power
(, one of the groups spearheading the drive.
"We have nearly 10,000 card holders in the state reporting good
results and no significant adverse health consequences. But many
patients don't have their medicine most of the time," he told DRCNet.
"OMMA2 creates a safe, regulated system of supply. Unlike in
California, where you have a system of clubs that supply medical
marijuana but don't have a source of legitimate supply, in Oregon
dispensaries will be licensed to sell medical marijuana health
products legally to patients or other dispensaries."

The initiative will pass, Sajo predicted. "This initiative came out of
five years of working with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, and we
feel it can pass even though in some ways it might be seen as a bold
step. While, unlike most other drug reform initiatives, we did not
write it based on polling data but on what needed to be done to
improve OMMA, we have done polling showing 80% of voters believe
patients should be able to purchase medical marijuana at a

While OMMA2 appears relatively non-controversial to Oregon voters, it
has already come to the notice of the Office of National Drug Control
Policy and some cable TV mouthpieces. In a July 7 edition of Fox News'
"The O'Reilly Factor," host Bill O'Reilly and guest Andrea Barthwell,
the recently resigned assistant to drug czar John Walters, gave a hint
of what could be to come. Starting with the introduction of the topic,
O'Reilly was a tear: He described OMMA2 as part of "the drive legalize
marijuana," ridiculed its provisions to allow naturopaths and other
licensed practitioners to recommend marijuana by saying "Amazonian
shamans" could prescribe it, and repeatedly criticized the six-pound
limit as "enough to fill a shopping cart."

Barthwell was singing counterpoint. "Two shopping carts, really," the good
doctor averred. "It allows a person so much marijuana that they could
supply a whole community of schoolchildren with enough marijuana to keep
them intoxicated for days at a time." [Editor's Note: The
O'Reilly-Barthwell transcript is worth reading in its entirety as an
example of the quality of arguments used by medical marijuana's opponents.
It is available at online.

"The O'Reilly show was illustrative of what we could face," said Sajo.
"If the voters are listening to Fox News going on about the various
provisions, that will make our campaign more difficult." But so far,
he said, there is little organized opposition inside the state. "The
opposition in 1998 was led by law enforcement, and we expect that to
be the case again this year. A number of medical marijuana advocates
have been meeting with a legislative advisory commission that included
five law enforcement representatives, and it was clear that not only
did they not like anything in OMMA2, they were still dragging their
feet on OMMA," he said. "The question is whether they are organized in
the sense of being willing to devote their weekends and spare time to
this like we are, or whether they're just willing to say bad things to

No group has filed papers in opposition to OMMA2, Sajo said, but they
are not required to until initiatives qualify and opponents start
spending money.

Opposition or no, OMMA2 proponents are gearing up for victory. "Our
campaign will be about showing how medical marijuana helps patients
and explaining why it is difficult and in many cases impossible for
patients to produce their own medicine," Sajo explained. "The
restrictions in the current law basically deny patients medicine we
now know helps them." And they have funding tentatively lined up for a
TV advertising campaign to help get that message out.

Meanwhile, in Montana, an initiative that would bring medical
marijuana to Big Sky Country qualified for the ballot July 16. The
Montana secretary of state's office reported that the initiative,
I-148, presented 22,059 certified signatures and qualified in 28
counties. To make the ballot, the measure needed 20,510 signatures and
to qualify in 28 counties -- another close one, but Montanans will get
to vote on medical marijuana in November.

According to initiative sponsors the Medical Marijuana Policy Project
of Montana (, the measure will allow
patients with cancer, AIDS, and other serious diseases and conditions
to use marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. Patients would be
issued identification cards by the state government, and would be
allowed to grow their own and possess up to six plants and one ounce
of smokeable pot.

"This initiative will allow individuals to cultivate and use medical
marijuana without fear of prosecution," said Paul Befumo, campaign
spokesman for I-148. "It will allow physicians to recommend medical
marijuana for a variety of listed illnesses and conditions."

In a February 2002 poll, 66% of Montanans approved of medical
marijuana, and Befumo told DRCNet he thinks that still holds true,
citing not only increasing public awareness of its efficacy but also
the state's conservative leanings. "The issue has support all over the
state," Befumo said. "The traditional view is that the Western part of
the state is more liberal than the East, but that doesn't seem to
matter. In some ways, this is a conservative issue. Montanans believe
in states' rights and limited government, and they will say they don't
need some politico or some bureaucrat from Washington, DC, telling
them what kind of treatment their doctor can give them."

As in Oregon, initiative organizers are keeping an eye out for drug
czar John Walters and his henchmen. "The ONDCP has said they will
oppose these initiatives, so they've given us fair warning," said
Befumo, a 23-year Montana resident. "My guess is if there is any
organized opposition it will be stirred up from Washington. The
question is whether it will be open and people can see it's from
Washington or whether they will try to do it surreptitiously," he warned.

Befumo and MMPPM are settling in for a fight. According to an e-mail
sent to supporters from Rob Kampia, director of the national Marijuana
Policy Project, MPP wants to spend $100,000 on a media campaign,
although it doesn't yet have all the money. "We will be embarking on a
campaign to educate the public about what this initiative does and
does not do," said Befumo. "The arguments against are basically that
marijuana has no medicinal value, and I think that's great! That
position is so outrageous and so easily disproved by the current state
of the science that it will be easy to show who's telling the truth
and who's not."

And in Columbia, Missouri, the Columbia Alliance for Patients and
Education (CAPE) has won certification of two municipal initiatives.
The first would order city prosecutors to dismiss misdemeanor
marijuana or paraphernalia possession charges if the defendant can
show a doctor supports his need for marijuana for a legitimate medical
condition. The other initiative, known as the Smart Sentencing
Initiative, would require prosecutors to refer misdemeanor possession
cases to the municipal -- not the state -- court, remove the
possibility of jail time, and reduce the maximum fine from $1,000 to

"We have succeeded in certifying both initiatives," said CAPE
spokesperson Dan Viets, a local defense attorney and member of the
NORML board of directors. "We will be on the ballot in November," he
told DRCNet.

"The sentencing initiative eliminates all jail time and cuts the
fines," Viets added, "but it also very importantly means you do not
lose your eligibility for federal student financial assistance. The
Higher Education Act only applies to state or federal convictions, not
municipal ones. We think others should be aware of that and if they
have municipal courts, they should do the same thing."

Seven states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon,
Washington -- have passed workable medical marijuana laws through the
initiative process, while voters in Arizona in 1996 passed a measure
that has been unworkable. In Hawaii and Vermont, medical marijuana has
come though legislative action, while Maryland legislators passed a
lesser bill allowing medicinal use to be used as a defense in
marijuana possession cases. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake