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Stricter regs needed for medical pot

Supporters of an effort to legalize medical marijuana in Arizona have taken steps to avoid some of the problems that have riddled California since voters there passed Proposition 215 in 1996.

Californians approved a seven-paragraph initiative that protects physicians, caregivers and medical marijuana patients from prosecution. But it led to a massive outgrowth of doctors who prescribe the drug for just about any malady, a burgeoning and, in some cases, unchecked industry of growing and selling cannabis. It also led to follow-up legislation to provide stricter rules for medical marijuana dispensaries and “caregiver” growers, but even those rules cause confusion.

Since then, 12 more states passed laws authorizing medical marijuana use. Most instances of legalization came at the ballot, but a handful of state legislatures have passed such laws without going to voters.

Many of the states that followed California’s lead learned a few things from watching what happened in the Golden State and created additional checks and balances to regulate the growing, selling, licensing and use of medical marijuana.

In contrast to the one-page initiative passed in California, the proposal from the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project is a 35- page document that outlines how supervision and regulation would take place regarding marijuana distribution and the registration of patients who would receive a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana.

“It’s the endpoint of a long evolution and I think it’s the culmination of about a decade and a half of medical marijuana laws,” said Bruce Mirken, a communications director for the Washington, D.C.- based Marijuana Policy Project, the prime sponsor of the Arizona effort.

Supporters in Arizona said it addresses precisely the concerns of those who want stiff regulation and those who intend to seek medical marijuana treatment.

“It has the best of all worlds,” said Andrew Myers, a consultant who works for the campaign. “It has the best regulation and it has the best for patient access. It has nonprofit dispensaries so it should be the best for price controls. I think we are going to see a very effective, well-run program in Arizona.”

Arizona voters gave their blessing to medical marijuana use in 1996, but the measure was quickly repealed by the Legislature. Next year, Arizona could join the ranks of several other states expected to have marijuana-related ballot initiatives, including medical marijuana measures in Florida, South Dakota and Minnesota. Legislatures in Pennsylvania and New Jersey also are considering legalizing medical marijuana use. And outright repeals of marijuana criminalization will be on the ballots in California, Colorado and Oregon.

Under Arizona’s ballot proposal, people 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.

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.

Other people who would be permitted to use marijuana include those suffering from glaucoma and patients with “debilitating medical conditions” brought on by diseases or treatments that cause severe and chronic pain, nausea, seizures, muscle spasms and severe loss of muscle mass.

To obtain marijuana legally, patients would need a recommendation from a doctor and consent from the state Department of Health Services.

Doctors would be required to conduct a full patient examination and medical history assessment before issuing recommendations for marijuana.

The Department of Health Services also would be required to operate a computer system to track licensing of patients and designated caregivers. The department also would be charged with registering owners and employees of dispensaries. The database would be available to law enforcement agencies and dispensaries.
Medical marijuana users would be permitted to keep as much as two-and- a-half ounces of marijuana at a time. Licensed caregivers would be free to grow as many as 12 marijuana plants.

The possession mandates under the proposal would put Arizona roughly in the middle of the pack, compared to restrictions in other states.

For instance, California allows patients to possess as much as eight ounces of marijuana. Other states allow a maximum of one ounce, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The language in Arizona’s pending ballot measure 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.

For now, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has made it clear that federal authorities will avoid prosecuting medical marijuana users or dispensaries if they are operating according to their state laws. A new administration could choose to proceed differently.

One significant and unique detail of the Arizona proposal is the inclusion of what Myers refers to as a marijuana-cultivation “halo” that prohibits patients from growing their own pot if a dispensary is within 25 miles of their home.

Another provision would tie the number of licensed dispensaries to the number of pharmacies operating in the state. The ratio is set at one dispensary for every 10 pharmacies. That would cap Arizona’s registered dispensaries at approximately 125, although the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy reports more than 100 new pharmacies are licensed each year.

The state regulation, “halo” cap, and dispensary limit were intended to ward off much of the confusion, or, in some instances, lawlessness that critics say has pervaded California’s adoption of medical marijuana use.
One opponent, John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Peace Officers’ Association, said California’s Prop. 215 preyed on voters’ sympathy for the terminally ill, but in reality created a vehicle to practically decriminalize the drug.

“The California law has been a disaster,” he said. “They dressed up their initiative with enough medical lipstick to put on the decriminalization pig.”

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws estimates there are 800 dispensaries in California, an explosion that Lovell said has brought organized crime into the business and an increase in burglaries and other crimes in communities with dispensaries.

The total absence of meaningful regulations on doctors and patients has created a booming industry that often operates on fraudulent cash- only transactions and can result in pot prescriptions for laughable ailments, he said.

Lovell said an undercover San Diego police officer went to a doctor in 2008 and secured a doctor’s recommendation for marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of menstrual cramps. The officer was a man, he said.

Dale Gieringer, an author of California’s Prop. 215, said the criticism is unfounded.

“We did not try to address distribution because that is a complicated situation that needs to be addressed by the Legislature,” he said. He said the Legislature’s failure to do so has prompted local governments to go “every which way” when it comes to regulation.

“It’s a complicated mess,” he said. “But the initiative isn’t written too broadly. United States laws are written too strictly. They are not compatible with a free society.”

California’s open-ended initiative language was somewhat clarified by a legislative amendment passed in 2003 that set limits on personal possession amounts, but authorized local governments to permit possession of larger quantities. The law also ordered the state health department to create a voluntary registry of medical marijuana patients and allowed individual and cooperative marijuana cultivation.

The rapid rise in California of so-called “grow-houses” used to cultivate large quantities of pot is also widely attributed to the passing of Prop. 215. The emergence is most notable in Humboldt County.

Paul Gallegos, Humboldt County’s district attorney, said he voted for the measure to advance individual liberties and to support his sister, who has since died from a terminal illness. Humboldt County, he said, still faces “greater ancillary issues” with alcohol and prescription- drug abuse.

The transformation since the law passed has brought about other problems, he said. Home invasions are a good example. He said more inner-city criminals visit the region to buy from or simply rob local growers.
Gallegos said the most aggravating part is that the initiative lacked details and state lawmakers have been unwilling to implement uniform laws to distinguish appropriate medical use from crime deserving of prosecution.

“It’s piecemeal throughout the state, and it makes everyone prosecuting look either like fools or hypocrites,” he said. “There are more regulations for owning a dog.”

16 comments

  1. Paul Gallegos, DA of Humboldt County, says it right, when he points out, after all is said and done…..”We still face “greater ancillary issues” with alcohol and prescription- drug abuse.”

    Regulate cannabis and adjust as you go, but don’t prohibit, or you will really have a mess.

  2. Does californians approved a seven-paragraph initiative that protects physicians ?

  3. It’s funny when Republicans scream about how there’s too much regulation in this country, how the government’s too big, how taxes are too high, and then want the government to infringe on the freedom of individuals to consume what they want. How about we return to fundamental values in this country: freedom and personal responsibility. Everyone should be free to consume what they want. Only when people actually cause harm to others should government attempt to restrict individual freedom.

  4. Valid medicinal value, it’s a victimless crime, the War on Drugs WAY too costly, too many arrests for simple possession, tax it and use the money to pay for health insurance and to reduce the deficit…Need I say more?

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  5. My wife works for a cancer clinic in Arizona. She has had many elderly patients tell her they use marijuana for nausea and for appetite. Many of them can’t afford the legal marijuana pill “Marinol”. It costs like $800 a month. Another problem with Marinol is it’s 100% THC, it ends up being way to strong for many patients. Besides it can take up to 30 minutes to work. It is much easier to control the dosage with smoked, vaporized or edible marijuana, it also only takes about 30 seconds to get the desired affects.

    The kicker is the patients tell her they have to enlist grandchildren to get them their marijuana. The big issue here is Arizonans marijuana laws. It is a felony in Arizona if one is caught with any amount of marijuana. It is also a felony to be caught with one marijuana seed or smoking pipe. We have some of the strictest drug laws in the nation. Now I’m all for going after the hard drugs, but marijuana? Considering it’s been scientifically proven to be a safer alternative to either cigarettes and alcohol, I personally think our laws need to be changed. Grandma has to put her grandchildren at risk of serious legal issues trying to find some relief for herself. For that reason, I am all for and will vote for medical marijuana.

    If a few recreational users slip through the cracks so be it. At least they will be buying Arizona marijuana, not Mexican drug cartel marijuana.

  6. Organized crime, burglaries, violence… These are not caused by marijuana, whether medical or otherwise. These are caused by the ridiculous laws that ignore the reality: 30 MILLION Americans use marijuana every year. Rather than taking the risk of growing their own, most of them buy it from someone willing to take the risk. Those criminals then organize into drug gangs, burglarize marijuana grow locations, and target our children as prospective customers.

    It’s time to drive a wedge between the criminal drug dealers and our kids. Licensing, taxing, and regulating marijuana will put the drug dealers out of business and protect our children. Regulate the marijuana business, medical or otherwise.

    While we’re at it, let’s implement a personal cultivation permit. Limit the number of plants, and put a fee on it, something like a fishing license, with maybe a little extra for education or fixing the roads.

    How about $100 per year for a permit to cultivate a dozen plants for personal use or to give away the product? It’s a win-win.

  7. I have had chronic arthritis which has deteriorated my neck and lower spine so much so that when I turn my neck I hear the bones grind. I am in my early fifties, look like 40 but the pain from this makes me feel like I am nearly 98. I cannot stand the narcotic pain pills they give me and they don’t work much anyway. I have to take sleeping pills to try for 5 hours of sleep every night. I sometimes have to have several drinks to get to sleep, then take a sleeping pill to get back to sleep, which is some cause for concern to me. I was taking Humira shots for about 4 years, which almost killed me. I have heard that marijuana will help the pain without the side effects of narcotics and will also help you sleep. If that is true it would be a long awaited solution. This is one republican that believes it should be legalized for medical use and we should be aloud grow our own without government interference for our own medical use tax free so I can live a normal life and be a tax payer(keep the criminals at the fda out of it). I have already lost my health insurance and don’t want government help but could never afford the pills if they are 800 mo. at the moment. I know this weed was wrongfully discredited long ago around the time of prohibition. It should be legalized and taxed for recreational use, just like alcohol! I would vote yes!

  8. I have state dissability insurance and because i have that i cant get into patient assistance programs or drug discount programs so i have to cope with a half dose of my marinol medication that to pay for still takes 2/3 of my 600 dollar a month dissability check. Live on that. check out the cancer cure i helped to develop “pinecone extract” its only costs about a dollar a day so it isn’t actively pushed by the drug pushers but it has been proven to be far more effective then alternatives alone it helps aids as well.

  9. Leonard Krivitsky, MD, DD

    Medical marijuana is not only remarkably effective in a variety of medical conditions but, according to Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, 4-th Edition, cannabis use suppresses violent crime. It is only a matter of time before cannabis use is also shown to be a “barrier”, instead of “gateway” to hard drug/excessive alcohol use. The following quote illustrates well why medical marijuana must be legalized in all 50 States ASAP, as well as made available to our veterans like in Canada:

    ” Cannabis will one day be seen as a wonder drug, as was penicillin in the 1940s. Like penicillin, herbal marijuana is remarkably nontoxic, has a wide range of therapeutic applications and would be quite inexpensive if it were legal.” – Dr. Lester Grinspoon, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2006

  10. Well regardless of what happens with this Ballot. Rest assured that at least there is much harder Liver Killing Narcotics available from your Local Pharmacy. If those don’t work just wash them down with some Jack Daniels.
    They talk of Grow houses being broke into. They make it sound like nobody ever Robbed or Broke into a Bar or Liquor Store. How about Pharmacy Break ins how often does that happen?
    We can legally buy Booze if we are of Age. Yet those issues are not Addressed when it comes to Pot Complaints.
    I believe if you are against the Weed than you should put down the Drink!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Why not just leave medical marijuana alone? In Mexico there is a massive drug war were people are killed every day. A large portion of that war is funded by marijuana use. So what is more harmful….legal pot or illegal pot? If prohibition ended law enforcement could focus on crimes that are truly harmful to society, rather than going after every kid on the street with a glass pipe or hand rolled cigarette.
    http://www.sunflowerpipes.com

  12. Although I haven’t smoked pot in probably 10 years, I would hope if I ever need constant pain relief that it would be available as a legal option. I can’t take Demerol, probably can’t take anything else in the same ‘family’, what other choice would I have?

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