Marc Brandl, [email protected]On March 3rd, 1999, Measure 8, Alaska's medical marijuana initiative, passed by nearly 60% of voters became law. On March 4th, state senator Loren Leman introduced SB 94, which would greatly modify several key provisions of the new law.
Two major proposals of the 15 page bill are seen as very controversial. The first would require patients to register with Alaska's Health and Human Services and allow broad access of that registry to law enforcement agencies. Measure 8 created the registry to be voluntary. The other key controversial provision is a statement that doctors would have to sign in order to recommend marijuana for patients that states, "There is no other legal treatment that can be tolerated by the patient that is as effective in alleviating the debilitating medical condition." Also only AIDS, cancer and glaucoma would be considered legitimate conditions for which marijuana could be recommended.
"We think the whole process is outrageous that he would try to amend this initiative into ineffectiveness just as it is coming into law," said Alaskans for Medical Rights treasurer David Finkelstein. "His bill sets up a system where law enforcement officials have access to a list of patients and all of their medical conditions. This just isn't a matter of having access to what drugs they are taking. The documentation necessary to get medical marijuana includes the doctor's documentation of their conditions, which includes AIDS. Some AIDS patients are concerned about that information getting out. It's essentially full disclosure to patients' medical backgrounds."
Senator Leman had a different perspective when he talked to the WOL about SB 94. "We're concerned about enforcing drug laws in the state of Alaska. The initiative was very poorly worded, it has a lot of loopholes and opportunities for abuse. What the bill does is correct some of those while still maintaining the ability of the so called medical marijuana part to operate." When asked about concerns over the requirement in SB 94 that all patients participate in the state registry to be legal users of medical marijuana, Sen. Leman replied, "Why did the promoters of this initiative form a state registry? They did it just to create the ruse that there was going to be a requirement for registering. But curiously they don't require that the users or the primary caregivers sign up and register. Our legislation requires them to register. Does that create an unnecessary burden on the doctor/patient relationship? No. Marijuana is not some harmless food supplement, it is a dangerous drug."
Another source of concern about Sen. Leman's bill raised by Finkelstein and several recent letters to the editor in the Anchorage Daily News is that the new law hasn't been given a chance to work and this legislation is an attempt to thwart the will of the voters. Senator Leman strongly disagreed, saying, "That isn't correct. Most the voters of Alaska, I believe, who voted for this, did so because they believed it would be limited, require a doctor's recommendation, that there would be a registry of users maintained by the state that people would have to sign up for, and that it would be limited to those who have a debilitating illness. That is what the voters of Alaska voted for."
The bill has a long road ahead before it becomes law or is voted down by the Alaskan legislature, and both sides believe it will be a long fight. "I am not sure of the outcome," said Finkelstein. "But we are doing all we can to convince legislators that compassion for patients out to be their number one concern and they ought to give the new law a chance to work."