Pubdate: Wed, 22 Apr 2009
Source: Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, AZ)
Copyright: 2009 Arizona Daily Star
Author: Daniel Scarpinato
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


PHOENIX -- A doctor's note will allow Arizonans to buy marijuana -- 
or even grow the drug in their home -- if a national group seeking 
voter approval gets its way next year. The group has drafted a 
measure they hope to get on the 2010 ballot that would legalize 
medical marijuana here and set up a system of non-profit 
"dispensaries." Supporters say marijuana use has great benefits for 
people suffering from serious illnesses ranging from cancer to HIV. 
But critics have long argued legalizing medical use is a step towards 
full legalization of a drug they see as a "gateway" to more serious addictions.

If the backers get their measure on next year's ballot, it will mark 
the fourth time since 1996 Arizona voters have a chance to weigh-in 
on the issue. "It's the right thing to do," said Andrew Myers, the 
Arizona campaign manager hired by the national Marijuana Policy 
Project. "It provides a level of mercy to these people who are 
suffering and dying."

Organizers have yet to submit draft language to the Secretary of 
State's Office. But Myers said the initiative would say if someone 
were to get a "recommendation" from a licensed physician they could 
not be prosecuted in the state for marijuana possession. There's two 
ways patients could get their hands on the pot: Either at the 
non-profit dispensaries, or if they're 25 miles away from one, they 
could grow the drug in their own home.

Those using the drug would still be violating federal law -- which is 
why doctors can't give a prescription like other drugs -- but on the 
state level, it would be legal. "We shouldn't be interfering with the 
doctor-patient relationship," Myers said. Arizonans have showed a 
willingness to legalize the practice for medical purposes before. In 
1996, voters approved medical marijuana -- only to see the 
Legislature essentially repeal the law afterward.

Two years later, voters re-ratified the '96 measure. But despite 
that, doctors have been unwilling to prescribe the drug because of 
the threat of losing their license. A 2002 initiative with a 
provision to reduce the penalty for possession of up to two ounces to 
a fine was rejected by voters.

This time supporters say they've worked out the legal issues by 
avoiding the mention of prescriptions. And there are other elements 
in the measure to win voters over. The state could only issue 
licenses for 120 dispensaries, none of which could be within 500 feet 
of a school.

"We're sensitive to the public's concerns about these facilities," 
said Myers, adding of the 13 states that have legalized medical 
marijuana, none have legalized it for recreational use.

But some are still skeptical.

State Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu, says he doesn't have a problem 
with people using marijuana for medical purposes.

But he said the dispensaries -- similar to a system used in 
California -- are prone to abuse.

"I think that's actually how they abuse it," Gould said -- although 
he says doctors prescribe other drugs that are more addictive and 
dangerous than pot. Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, says even if the move 
is a step toward legalization, she's not threatened, pointing to some 
of the greater societal effects she sees from alcohol. A champion of 
legalizing assisted suicide, Lopez said the state shouldn't try to be 
"medical arbiters."

"Marijuana has been very helpful for people to deal with pain," she 
said. The group has until July 2010 to gather more than 150,000 signatures.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom