Less than two weeks out from election day, the Arizona medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 203, appears poised for victory. If it wins, Arizona will become the 15th medical marijuana state. Or maybe the 16th -- polls close an hour earlier in South Dakota, which also has a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot.
Lily Rose, cancer survivor and Prop 203 spokesperson
"It's going real well," said Andrew Myers, spokesman for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project
(AMMPP). "Prop 203 is the most popular of any of the initiatives or the candidates, including John McCain."
A Rocky Mountain poll
released last week had Prop 203 passing with 54% among registered voters and 52% among likely voters. By comparison, Sen. John McCain in a runaway race has support at 49%, according to the poll.
The poll showed strong support among voters under 55 and a near even split among older voters, with 41% supporting and 43% opposed. Two-thirds of Democrats support the measure, as do 57% of independents. Republicans are divided, with 48% opposing, but 40% supporting.
"We expect that Arizonans will support Prop 203 the same way we supported medical marijuana before," Myers said, noting that voters had passed medical marijuana initiatives in 1996 and 1998. "Those votes demonstrated a high level of support, and we came back and drafted a complete piece of legislation. We were able to learn a lot of lessons about how these programs operated in other states, and apply those lessons in our initiative."
Under the initiative, patients suffering from a specified list of diseases or conditions (cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, Chrohn's disease, Alzheimers, wasting syndrome, severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe muscle spasms) or "any other conditions or its treatment added by the Department [of Health]" could use marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. Patients or designated caregivers could possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of usable marijuana.
The initiative envisions a system of state-registered, nonprofit dispensaries that could grow, process, sell, and transport medical marijuana and be remunerated for costs incurred in the process. In most cases, patients or their caregivers would not be allowed to grow their own medicine. Instead, unless they live more than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary, they would have to purchase their medicine at a dispensary. Patients and their caregivers outside that range would be allowed to grow up to 12 plants.
Arizonans have also twice voted to approve medical marijuana, in 1996 and again in 1998. In 1996, the initiative passed, only to be rejected by the state legislature, which placed it on the ballot two years later in order to give voters a chance to rectify their mistake. But the voters again approved medical marijuana, only to find out later that the measure was unworkable because the initiative mandated that physicians prescribe -- not recommend -- medical marijuana. That meant that doctors who wanted their patients to use marijuana would run up against the DEA, which controls doctors' ability to prescribe controlled substances.
In 2002, voters rejected a decriminalization initiative that had, as Myers put it, "a wacky medical component." Under that measure, the state Department of Public Safety would have had to distribute seized marijuana for free to medical marijuana patients.
Organized opposition has been late and limited. All of the state's sheriffs and district attorneys signed on to a letter
opposing Prop 203 earlier this month. Medical marijuana in other states has led to "disastrous results," the letter claimed. "Marijuana floods the state that legalizes it and becomes readily available through grow-houses and independent distributors... Prop 203 would endanger the good people of Arizona by increasing the amount of illegal drugs in our State. We believe Prop 203 will lead to increased crime and vehicle accidents and will drain the resources of law enforcement agencies."
The letter warns that passage of the measure would mean "kids (any age)" could use medical marijuana with their parents' permission, but fails to mention either that a doctor's recommendation would be required or that other medications are available to children when needed.
It also warns that "you can pilot an airplane, navigate a watercraft and drive an automobile and cannot be charged with DUI if you only have marijuana metabolites in your system and you are a medical marijuana cardholder" -- failing to mention that the presence of metabolites, which can remain in the system form weeks, is not an indicator of impairment.
More serious opposition is centered on Keep AZ Drug Free/No on Prop 213
, which has been the recipient of $10,000 donations from both former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo and the Arizona Cardinals NFL team. This group has been active in getting op-eds published, doing call-ins to radio talk shows, and participating in public forums, but still doesn't seem to be gaining much traction.
"For a long time, we didn't hear a peep out of the opposition, but lately it's been getting intense and they've been getting increasingly strident," said Myers. "It's funny because their arguments have been very inaccurate, especially at the beginning of the campaign. I don't think they actually read the initiative before they came out against it."
The campaign is running on limited resources. The Marijuana Policy Project
put $500,000 into the signature gathering phase of the campaign, but hasn't funded the actual election campaign. That means AMMPP is having to rely largely on local donations, and while the campaign isn't broke, like the opposition, it isn't exactly rolling in money, either.
"We're talking to as many voters as we can, we have TV ads up and running, but what we can do will depend on funding in these final days," said Myers. "We have an extensive cable TV buy in Phoenix and Tucson, but we haven't made our final spending decisions yet."
1996, 1998, 2002, 2010. It looks like the fourth time may be the charm for medical marijuana in Arizona.