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Medical marijuana proposition stirs spirited debate

September 18, 2010

Medical Marijuana Dispensary
Image by Goodnight London via Flickr

by Bob McClay/KTAR and Sandra Haros/KTAR (September 16th, 2010 @ 4:28pm)

PHOENIX — A spirited debate has developed over a medical marijuana proposition on Arizona’s Nov. 2 general election ballot.

Proposition 203 would allow patients with a debilitating medical condition to purchase, possess and use 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks with a doctor’s recommendation. The marijuana would be grown and sold by non-profit dispensaries regulated by the state.

Supporters say medical marijuana could help 55,000 Arizonans who suffer from such diseases as cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis. Critics say it would just open the door to more drug abuse.

Andrew Myers is with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Project, which put Prop 203 on the ballot.

“What this initiative will allow is certain seriously and terminally ill patients, with a very distinct list of medical conditions, to get a recommendation from their physician to use medical marijuana,” said Myers.

He emphasized a recommendation is different from a prescription “because marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 substance by the FDA so it cannot be legally prescribed.”

Marijuana can help patients with HIV or AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s Disease, glaucoma and severe and chronic pain.

Among those opposed to Prop 203 are Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, State Sen. Russell Pearce and U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, all Republicans. They support a group called “Keep AZ Drug Free,” which claims medical marijuana would mean an increase in crime in the state.

“There will be an increase in death on our highways. There will be an increase of juveniles with substance abuse problems and treatment issues and family issues related to drug abuse, destructive to families,” said Pearce.

He added, “This is dangerous. This is absolutely frightening if you understand what’s going on here.”

Arpaio said, “We should never legalize drugs. I have been against that my whole life.”

The sheriff said he would start a new posse to crack down on marijuana use if the initiative passes.

“I’m going to give special interest, if it is passed, to make sure the policies are enforced and, if there’s any violation of law, people are going to jail,” he said.

Allan Sobol with Medical Marijuana Dispensaries of Arizona is gearing up to open the first dispensary if medical marijuana is passed by the voters.

He said his group sent out letters to about 8,000 doctors asking if they would like to participate in the program.

“I had one doctor who called and asked to be removed from that list. That’s it,” he said.

Sobol’s group has registered with the state and launched a Web site.

“We have every intention of being the first dispensary to open in Arizona,” he said. “That’s why we’ve taken these steps. We’ve taken all these preliminary steps so when the law passes and the rules are administered or promulgated by the health department, we’ll be ready to open our doors.”

Sobol estimated it will take about eight months to get the program started, once it passes. He said the marijuana must be grown and the state needs time to implement regulations.

The marijuana must be grown in Arizona, Sobol said.

“You still cannot cross a state line with it, it would be a federal offense. So it’s pretty clear that everything that sells here is going to have to be grown here.”

While company investors have large plots of land available in northern Arizona, Sobol said most of the marijuana probably will be grown indoors at a commercial warehouse somewhere in Phoenix.

Arizonans have voted on medical marijuana proposals three times since 1996. In 1996, they approved the use of marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. That measure was gutted by state lawmakers.

In 1998, voters rejected a pair of proposals designed to hinder the legalization of medical marijuana, although they did not establish a program.

In 2002, voters rejected an effort to make it legal to possess small quantities of marijuana and make the drug available free to patients suffering from cancer and other diseases.

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