Medical Marijuana Petitions for 2010 Initiative Due to Hit Streets Soon

Who says pot makes people lazy?

The Marijuana Policy Project's effort to legalize medicinal use of the plant in Arizona will be the "first major petition on the street" for 2010's election, says Andrew Myers, local spokesman for the Project. "We're very much in need of people to help us gather signatures."

Backers are hoping the early bird gets the roach. They need to collect 153,365 valid signatures of registered voters by July, 2010 to put their citizens iniatiative on the ballot. If approved by voters, the measure would be the second time Arizonans have legalized medical marijuana. But this time, supporters expect it to stick.

Voters passed a medical pot proposal overwhelming in 1996. However, the law required patients to get a prescription from their doctor for marijuana, and the DEA threatened that doctors who wrote such prescriptions would have their licenses revoked. (The latest proposal requires only a "recommendation" for pot and not a prescription).

Another measure in 2002 would have decriminalized marijuana for everyone. That one failed because voters found it absurd that the Arizona Department of Public Safety would be forced into the dope-distribution business.

This new proposal has as excellent chance at passing, says Myers. Polls conducted by the Marijuana Policy Project in February showed that 65 percent of likely voters support the idea. The support cut across all demographic groups, Myers says. Even the group that favored the initiative the least, self-described conservative Republicans, was split 50-50 on it, he says.

Surveys showed that Arizonans aren't quite ready for a law as liberal as the one in California, which allows a patient to obtain pot from a doctor for nearly any reason. The planned initiative in this state would require a documented illness, though it does leave some wiggle-room in the concept of getting a pot recommendation for "severe pain."

Although the Policy Project generally backs the complete legalization of marijuana, members believe changing laws for sick people is a priority.

"We can have a war over marijuana, and I'm more than willing to have that discussion," says Myers. "But before we do, let's get the sick and dying off the battlefield."

(Myers laughed when we asked him if he'd used that line with other media. No one else has published it yet, he says).

"Our core belief is this: We need to trust our physicians," he says. "It makes you angry to see how some of the most vulnerable people in our society have been treated by the government."

Marijuana opponents, like former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, say in an April 18 Arizona Republic article that the medical community, which has "never" pushed for medicinal marijuana, ought to make the decision on the issue:

"I just don't believe we decide what's good medicine at the ballot box," Romley said.

The fallacy of such a statement should be obvious: If Romley's right, then lawmakers shouldn't decide "what's good medicine" anymore than voters. Yet lawmakers made marijuana illegal, not doctors. In fact, when marijuana was first made illegal by Congress in 1937, the American Medical Association opposed the law.

An interesting side-note is that Romley, who lost both legs above the knee to a land mine in Vietnam, is on the record as having smoked marijuana back in the 1970s. If he'd been busted in Arizona at the time, he sure as heck wouldn't have been elected county attorney -- and, thus, he'd likely have no public forum to state his opposition to this iniatitive.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.