The push for legalized medical marijuana use in Arizona has gone from corporate to personal, now that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project has designated a Tucson woman suffering from multiple sclerosis to head its 2010 ballot initiative committee.
The committee’s Nov. 23 filing with the Secretary of State’s Office named Diane Manchester as the committee’s official chairman. She replaced Joe Yuhas, a director of the Phoenix-based office of advertising consultant Riester.
Manchester, a former civilian employee of the Phoenix Police Department who has since retired on disability, said regular marijuana use helps her cope with physical pain associated with multiple sclerosis and her prescribed medications. She also said it allows her to maintain her appetite and mental acuity.
Manchester said she has accepted the position of chairperson of the committee with the goal of changing Arizona’s drug laws to confront the fear among medical marijuana users of arrest.
“I am so prone to being scared, and it’s terrible,” she said. “I want to stop the fear of the people who need it (marijuana). I am so tired of not being able to tell the truth. I know when my name and picture are out there people are going to know me. And that’s okay.”
So far, the ballot initiative committee has collected 190,000 signatures in Arizona, said Andrew Myers, a campaign consultant who served on the staff of former Gov. Janet Napolitano.
The number surpasses the 153,365 signatures of Arizona voters needed to turn into the Secretary of State’s Office by July 4, 2010, to qualify for the 2010 ballot. Myers said the committee plans on collecting 250,000 signatures to make sure enough of the signatures are valid.
Myers said the signature gathering effort has been successful because the public understands the difference between illicit recreational drug use and the “compassionate” dispensing of marijuana to patients suffering from serious medical conditions.
Manchester said she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001 after falling ill during a retreat assembled for employees of the Phoenix Police Department, where she processed licenses and paperwork for security alarms.
The Tucson resident said she looks forward to the possibility growing her own marijuana, which she said has helped her “live a normal life.” Experimentation with Marinol, a pharmaceutical drug containing a synthetic version of the active drug in marijuana, gives her headaches, she said.
The ballot proposal seeks to make it legal for Arizonans with certain medical conditions and symptoms to obtain limited amounts of marijuana for personal use from state-regulated dispensaries. Licensing and regulation would be handled by the Arizona Department of Health Services.
If the measure passes, people diagnosed with cancer, AIDs, HIV, Alzheimer’s, Hepatitis C and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis would qualify for protection under state 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.
The language in the ballot proposition also aims to restrict prosecution under federal law, but it’s unclear whether that language would have any impact on federal decisions to seek prosecution.
With the approval of the Department of Health Services, patients would be permitted to possess as much as 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 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.
Members of public would be allowed to petition the department to add other medical conditions to the list of diseases and symptoms that would qualify under the medical marijuana law.
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.
So far, no opposition groups to the initiative have been registered with the Secretary of State’s Office.
Myers said he is confident that if passed by voters, the medical marijuana initiative would create an unequaled and tightly regulated dispensary system that would thwart potential abuses of relaxed marijuana laws.
The consultant criticized a successful medical marijuana initiative in California for creating a patchwork of varying regulations among local governments and a thriving unregulated industry of marijuana dispensaries.
“This is not California’s program,” he said.