Marijuana reform advocates say patients in need of herbal pain medication are closer to relief, as efforts increase in Arizona to turn out support for a proposition in favor of the legalization of medical marijuana.
To date, The Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project says it has collected more than 130,000 voters’ signatures — approximately 23,000 short of the 153,000 voter signatures required to get the proposition onto the November 2010 ballot.
“There are thousands of sick Arizonans who need medical marijuana for pain relief,” said Andrew Myers, campaign manager for the project.
“Currently, they have two choices: continue to suffer or go to the criminal market to purchase illegal marijuana. We hope to change that.”
The proposition aims to allow Arizonans with qualifying ailments to receive limited amounts of medical marijuana from dispensaries regulated by the state.
The Arizona Department of Health Services would issue permits to these patients, granting them the choice between herbal and pharmaceutical medication.
If the proposal makes the 2010 ballot and passes, the law will protect the rights of doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients who suffer from painful diseases from state and federal prosecution.
Mary MacKenzie, Treasurer for AZ-4-National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, advocates ending medical marijuana prohibition so that qualifying patients can receive the treatment they deserve.
“We have a lot of patients in need in Arizona and we don’t need doctors going to jail for doing their job,” said MacKenzie.
However, opponents to the proposition believe that it is nothing more than a step toward the decriminalization — and eventually legalization — of recreational marijuana use.
Myers disagrees with this sentiment due to the proposition’s stance on upholding restrictions on such things as the public use of marijuana.
“The legalization of medical marijuana is our priority, not the legalization for recreational use,” Myers said. “If (legalization of marijuana for personal use) was going to happen, it would have passed already.”
Bill Godfrey, a medical marijuana user who recently lost part of his foot due to diabetes, uses the drug as prescribed by his California doctor.
Godfrey supports Arizona taking the same measures that California took in 1996 to legalize medical marijuana.
“When I take painkillers, they put me to sleep for 16 hours or make me so groggy I can’t remember to take my insulin,” said Godfrey. “Medical marijuana doesn’t do that, it just relieves the pain and relaxes me.”
This is not the first time legalization of medical marijuana has been placed on the Arizona ballot. In 1996, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, which granted the use of medical marijuana to qualifying patients while creating stiffer laws against personal use. This proposition was later overturned by the Arizona Legislature because it conflicted with federal laws.
In February 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries as long as they were in accordance with state law.
This is good news for patients who are eligible for medical marijuana but cannot receive the medication due to conflicting state and federal laws.
As the deadline for gathering 153,000 voters’ signatures by July 2010 approaches, Myers said he will, with the help of 450 petitioners, continue to gather signatures from Arizona voters.
“We are very confident that this will work for patients, the community and even law enforcement,” said Myers. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
By Austin Counts