Medical marijuana headed back to ballot in ArizonaMedical marijuana on ballot for fourth time
PHOENIX — For the fourth time, Arizonans will decide in November whether people with certain ailments should be able to legally use marijuana.
The Secretary of State's Office confirmed Tuesday that backers of the latest medical marijuana initiative had enough valid signatures on their petitions to be on the ballot. That makes it the first voter-sought measure to qualify.
So far there is no organized opposition. But the record is mixed on how state voters feel about the issue.
Arizonans have approved a similar measure — twice. But that never took effect because of the way it was worded.
A proposed 2002 fix was rejected because it was considered too broad, even to the point of making the Department of Public Safety the state's largest marijuana dealer.
This new version, if approved, would allow doctors to recommend that patients with certain conditions use marijuana. That recommendation would entitle the patient to a card from the Arizona Department of Health Services allowing them to purchase up to 2½ ounces of marijuana every two weeks from a state-regulated nonprofit dispensary.
Those living at least 25 miles from one of those sites would be entitled to grow their own.
But the measure differs from similar laws in California and other states where marijuana can be recommended to those with any medical condition: This one lists specific ailments that can be treated, including AIDS, chemotherapy treatments and chronic pain.
Current law — the one approved in 1996 and reratified two years later — allows doctors to prescribe not just marijuana but any other illegal drugs to patients who are terminally or seriously ill.
When the Legislature voted to overrule that, proponents put the issue back on the ballot again in 1998, along with a new constitutional provision forbidding lawmakers from tinkering with voter-approved measures. Both passed.
But that law proved impossible to implement.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration warned that it would revoke all prescription-writing privileges of any doctor who wrote a prescription for marijuana. The result was that no doctor ever wrote one out to be filled.
A 2002 ballot measure sought to resolve that with the new word “recommend.'' But that measure ran into public opposition at least in part because it would require DPS to furnish marijuana to patients with medical identification cards from its stash of seized drugs.
That measure also would have decriminalized marijuana possession for everyone else, setting the maximum penalty for possession of up to two ounces at just $250.
At that time only a handful of states had medical marijuana laws. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 14 states and the District of Columbia now have working laws allowing doctors to recommend marijuana.
The Arizona initiative is being financed largely by the Marijuana Policy Project.