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Medical marijuana backers file notice of ballot effort

Medical marijuana advocates have filed notice with the Arizona Secretary of State that they intend to gather signatures in an effort to place an initiative on the 2010 ballot to ask voters to legalize smoking pot by patients who get a recommendation from a doctor.

Under the proposal, Arizonans with certain medical conditions and symptoms would be permitted to qualify with the Arizona Department of Health Services to obtain limited amounts of marijuana for personal use from state-regulated dispensaries.

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project would protect patients, doctors and caregivers of patients that suffer from diseases such as cancer, AIDS, HIV, Alzheimer’s, Hepatitis C and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis from prosecution under state and federal law.

Glaucoma patients and others ailing from diseases or medical treatments that cause severe and chronic pain, nausea, seizures, muscle spasms and severe loss of muscle mass also would be permitted to use marijuana with the recommendation of a doctor and department consent.

“This is a common-sense law that allows severely ill patients access to medication that they need, while providing strict controls to make sure this medicine is only available to qualified patients,” campaign manager Andrew Myers stated in a press release. “Thousands of patients across Arizona are already using medical marijuana with their doctor’s recommendation. These patients shouldn’t have to risk arrest and jail just for following their doctor’s advice.”

With the approval of the Department of Health Services, patients would be permitted to possess up to two-and-a-half ounces of marijuana. The department also would have discretion to authorize individuals to grow their own marijuana for medical use.

The proposal would also permit “designated caregivers” to grow up to 12 marijuana plants to assist no more than five patients who have been approved by the department to use marijuana for medical purposes. Caregivers must be at least 21 years old and cannot have prior convictions for violent offenses or felony violations of federal drugs laws.

If passed, members of public also would be allowed to petition the department to add additional medical conditions to the initiative’s listed diseases and symptoms that could qualify an individual to legally use marijuana.

The proposal does not allow approved marijuana users to operate motor vehicles while under influence of the drug, and use is prohibited in preschools, primary schools, secondary schools and correctional facilities.

Arizona political consultant Farrell Quinlan said he believes the medical marijuana initiative still leaves plenty of unanswered questions. The initiative’s language takes up 34 pages, and Quinlan said he would like to assemble a coalition of neighborhood groups, employers and law enforcement officials to determine the initiative’s actual impact.

He said he already has grave concerns about the proposal’s impact on workplace safety, workers’ compensation, neighborhood zoning rights and the criminal justice system. Quinlan said he is also worried that Arizona’s existing Voter Protection Act would make altering the effects of the initiative almost impossible.

“What kind of straightjacket does that put on future lawmakers?” said Quinlan, a former member of Drugs Don’t Work in Arizona, a federally funded organization that consulted employers interested in implementing anti-drug strategies in their workplaces.

The Voter Protection Act, passed in 1998, requires that legislators approve changes to existing laws passed by ballot initiative by a three-quarters majority vote. The act also specifies that any amendments must “further the purpose” of the pertaining initiative.

Myers said concerns about the proposal’s effects are misguided, as 13 states have adopted similar medical marijuana use laws that have been well-received by the public.

“There’s never been a serious effort to repeal any of them,” said Myers, a former staffer for ex-Governor Janet Napolitano. “It’s a common-sense law.”

Myers said the initiative has been drafted by election law attorney Lisa Hauser.

Backers of the proposal must submit at least 153,365 signatures of registered Arizona voters by July 1, 2010 to qualify the proposed law change for the 2010 November general election ballot.

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