Medical marijuana’s history in Arizona dates back 14 years.
Voters first approved its use in 1996 by a 65-percent margin, but the Legislature overturned it. That was part of the reason voters approved another voter initiative in 1998 that prevents the Legislature from overturning voter-approved initiatives and referendums.
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, which led the effort to get the Prop. 203 medical marijuana measure on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot, says its poll found exactly the same support in Arizona for medical marijuana these days, at 65 percent.
The Medical Marijuana Policy Project says thousands of seriously ill Arizonans are using the drug right now on doctors’ recommendations.
Jon Gettel of Tucson said he’s been using pot for medicinal purposes for a decade to cope with nerve pain caused by a serious car accident.
“I had to learn to walk again,” Gettel said. “Medical marijuana was more effective than serious painkillers such as Oxycontin. I have a painful neuropathy that marijuana helps me with. It helps me sleep and improves my mood.”
Apparently the drive for medical marijuana is a Western trend; nine of the 14 states that allow medical pot use are in the West. And some form of favorable medical marijuana laws have been enacted in a total of 36 states, according to the Medical Marijuana Policy Project.
The Medical Marijuana Policy Project says restrictions in Arizona’s proposition would avoid many of the pitfalls other states have faced. For example, it would limit pot dispensaries to a ratio of pharmacies, which right now would add up to a maximum of 124 dispensaries, Prop. 203 campaign manager Andrew Myers told those attending a Secretary of State propositions meeting in Prescott recently. And it would be a felony to give or sell pot to unregulated users, he added.
The measure has a long list of vocal opponents, including all of Arizona’s sheriffs and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.
Dr. Ed Gogek, an addiction psychiatrist in Prescott, is another vocal opponent of Prop. 203. He said three-fourths of the legal users in California are younger than 40.
The sheriffs and Polk note that people could legally obtain the drug for a wide variety of reasons, including “severe and chronic pain” and “severe nausea.” Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble said more than 88 percent of all medical marijuana cardholders in Montana cite “severe and chronic pain” for their need.
Opponents also note that children could get prescriptions with the approval of parents and two doctors, although the measure wouldn’t allow pot in schools (or public places or jails).
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports that the average age of its medical marijuana users is 40, and 22 are minors. Seventy-three percent are men, and 93 percent report using pot for “severe pain.”
The sheriffs and Polk also note that Prop. 203 would allow people to legally drive or come to work with marijuana “metabolites” in their system if they were medical marijuana cardholders.
That statement can be misleading, however. The initiative would require law enforcement and employers to prove impairment instead of just the presence of metabolites, which can stay in a person’s urine for two to three weeks.
The sheriffs’ written statement also asserts that employers could not fire or discipline people with medical marijuana cards who come to work and test positive for marijuana.
However, the official Legislative Council analysis in the state government’s propositions publicity pamphlet states that employers could punish workers who are impaired by pot, or using or carrying it at work.
Michelle Graye of Tucson, chapter secretary of Arizona 4 NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), accuses Prop. 203 opponents of using “reefer madness tactics” to scare people, referring to a 1936 cult movie that portrays people going mad on pot.
“We’re going on 40 years in a drug war that’s been a complete failure,” she said.
By Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Daily Courier
(Reporter Linda Stein contributed to this story.)