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Prop. 203 sets medical marijuana on right legal, financial paths

Prop. 203 sets medical marijuana on right legal, financial paths

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The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, Proposition 203, will be on the ballot this November. If it passes, Arizona will be the 15th state to legalize the use of medical marijuana. It is important to look beyond the misrepresentations and scare tactics of those who oppose Proposition 203 to what 203 actually will do if passed. Those who oppose Proposition 203 are largely the ones making money from the current marijuana laws, including law enforcement, politicians, pharmaceutical companies, drug counselors, lawyers, and those amassing huge fortunes in the illegal marijuana market. "The real story on medical marijuana" which appeared recently in this paper is a good example. The guest column is written by Carolyn Short, the chairperson of Keep Arizona Drug Free (KADF) and a retired lawyer from Paradise Valley. Ed Gogek, the co-author, is a substance abuse counselor.

Anti-203 groups like KADF focus on abuses that have occurred in California, Montana and Colorado rather than what Proposition 203 will do in Arizona. Most of their assertions are unsupported by any credible evidence and instead rely upon unsubstantiated anecdotes ("90 percent get their marijuana for pain, and that pain can be anything from a sprained ankle to a skateboarding injury. One woman got marijuana because her high heels hurt."). In fact, the initiative requires "qualifying patients" to be diagnosed with one of the specific diseases listed or to suffer from a "debilitating medical condition" that produces severe and chronic pain. [36-2801.01]

Proposition 203 also expressly addresses other concerns that have arisen with the medical marijuana laws in other states. The medical marijuana dispensaries will be regulated by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and the number of dispensaries is capped, the location of dispensaries is limited and away from school zones, and patients cannot consume their medicine at the dispensaries.

Unlike other states, 203 would only authorize the use of marijuana for specific medical diseases and conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, glaucoma, Crohn's disease and multiple sclerosis. Proposition 203 also requires a doctor's approval and certification and a state-issued permit for legal marijuana use. The amount of medicine would be limited to 2.5 ounces and patients could only purchase their medicine from tightly regulated clinics or dispensaries or grow up to 12 plants if they live more than 25 miles from a dispensary.

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, director of Tucson's Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, recent studies have shown the benefits of Cannabis for treating nausea, vomiting, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, migraines, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, alcohol abuse, arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, bipolar disorder, depression, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, sickle-cell disease, sleep apnea, Alzheimer's disease and anorexia nervosa. Most exciting is the role Cannabis could have in cancer treatment and prevention. According to Dr. Weil, this would be a huge advantage over conventional chemotherapy treatment. The National Cancer Institute confirms inhaling smoked marijuana delivers therapeutic benefits more effective than taking pills containing the same active ingredient.

Even when the actual content of Proposition 203 is addressed by KADF and the anti-203 forces, claims are exaggerated and contradicted by the actual text of the initiative. ("Surgeons, teachers, and truck drivers can go to work high and can't be fired.") If 203 passes, drivers using marijuana, like alcohol, will continue to be arrested and prosecuted if there is probable cause for an officer to believe the driver is impaired to the slightest degree [36-2802]. An employer can also take action against an employee for using, possessing or being impaired while at work. [36-2813] and a physician still can be sanctioned by the licensing board for failing to properly evaluate a patient or violating the standard of care. [36-2811]

Finally, legal marijuana may also provide a significant source of revenue for Arizona while saving millions of tax dollars now spent arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating medical marijuana users. The California Board of Equalization estimates sales taxes from their 2010 initiative alone will generate $1.3 billion a year.

Allowing the regulated use of medial marijuana will help the seriously ill, like Heather Torgerson, the chair of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project and brain cancer patient, while reducing the demand for illegal drugs, improving our border security and hurting illegal drug cartels.

Vote Yes on Proposition 203.

Lee Phillips is a member of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws' (NORML) Legal Committee and a local attorney.

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