Tokin' Resistance

Proposition 200 -- the Drug Medicalization Act -- is causing high anxiety among politicians and lawmen

The stoop-shouldered man slouches behind a coffee table that is really a marijuana table. It practically bows beneath the collective weight of pot and things pot-related.

The place looks like Cheech and Chong's version of the afterlife. On the table, bags of pot and a jar brimming with half-smoked joints compete for space with bongs, pipes, roach clips and tins of green cookies, the main ingredient being--you guessed it--pot. There's a box of Cheez-Its nearby.

Buds of pot swim in jars of 150-proof Everclear. While deftly rolling a joint, the man explains that the grain alcohol leeches out the THC, the ingredient that gives marijuana its mind-altering powers. When sipped, it delivers a kick similar to smoked pot. "It's a tincture," he explains. "Just like they used to use it in the old days."

The man is 41, but his unlined face and Beavis-and-Butt-head physique make him seem much younger. "It's the pot," he explains. "It keeps you young." Then, on a conspiratorial note: "They don't want that getting out."

Meet Glaucoma Jim, Arizona's self-appointed poster child for marijuana as medicine. There's a good chance you've seen him. Ever since Arizona voters approved Proposition 200--the Drug Medicalization Prevention and Control Act of 1996--last month, Jim, who asks that his last name not be used ("The family sort of gets freaked out"), has received more than his share of 15 minutes of fame.

"[A TV news crew] came in here last week," Jim rasps. "They had me smoking bong after bong after bong. It got sorta rough after a while, let me tell ya."

"Yeah, you were really complaining," joshes Marci, Jim's young companion.
Glaucoma is a buildup of pressure inside the eyeball that harms the optic nerve. Supporters of medical marijuana say it eases the pressure. Jim swears by it.

Jim claims to be an organizer of a sort of underground railroad that occasionally guides the similarly afflicted on trips to the Netherlands, where relaxed drug laws allow doctors to write prescriptions for just about anything, including marijuana.

Jim gingerly unfolds his own tattered prescription form from Holland dating from July 1995. His treatment calls for one gram of marijuana an hour.

Given his fixation, one would think Glaucoma Jim would be celebrating Arizona's embrace of Proposition 200. To the contrary, he's blithely unconcerned.

One glance at the coffee table is ample explanation. If marijuana is medicine, Jim is a pharmacist.

For Proposition 200's opponents, Jim--a man whose life revolves around pot--represents the bogeyman. So do "pothead doctors" who they fear will churn out prescriptions for marijuana and other, more powerful drugs.

All of which misses the point entirely, says Dr. Jeffrey Singer, a Valley general surgeon who served as Proposition 200's medical spokesman. Though his specialty is not one that would ever require him to prescribe pot, he was anxious to back the measure.

"It's not about whether we can start prescribing marijuana to everyone who asks," Singer patiently explains. "It's about seeing drug abuse as a medical problem versus a criminal problem."

So why did he and a dozen other doctors lend their names to the pro-Proposition 200 campaign?

"Because it's clear that what we've been doing to combat drug abuse has not been successful," he says.

Nearly two thirds of Arizonans who voted November 5 apparently agree. They roundly endorsed Proposition 200, which, as it turns out, may have had less to do with marijuana as medicine than you may think.

Instead, its backers say, Proposition 200's focus is much broader, seeking to steer people arrested for possessing drugs into treatment programs and away from overcrowded prisons. Supporters describe it as nothing less than a paradigm shift in the way people have come to view drugs and drug abuse.

Despite the support it received at the polls, Arizona's initiative--and a marijuana-as-medicine measure approved by California voters--has come under attack from some highly placed people who say voters in both states made big mistakes.

The critics, ranging from congressmen to prosecutors and state legislators, have plainly stated that they would like nothing more than to see the Drug Medicalization Prevention and Control Act of 1996 go up in smoke.

In the weeks since its passage, Proposition 200's detractors have argued that the measure is not so much a referendum on Arizona's willingness to surrender in the war on drugs as a measure of voters' gullibility.

If the criticism sounds familiar, there's a reason. Arizona has a long and storied tradition of deceptive ballot measures.

Such complaints were leveled by those who unsuccessfully opposed Proposition 102, the juvenile-crime measure backed by Governor J. Fife Symington III.

Attorney General Grant Woods, one of Proposition 102's most outspoken critics, called the measure an old-fashioned "bait and switch" scheme, in which buyers are shown the real thing, then sold a shoddy imitation. The juvenile-crime initiative's backers asked voters to approve a measure that would crack down on violent juvenile offenders by requiring their automatic transfer into adult courts. It struck all the right chords. And it worked. But there was just one problem: Almost all juveniles charged with committing violent crimes were already winding up in adult courts.

Likewise, Arizonans for Drug Reform sold Proposition 200 to the public as a get-tough initiative. The introductory sentence of the ballot measure reads, "A 'yes' vote shall have the effect of requiring entire sentence to be served by persons who commit violent crimes while on drugs . . ."

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