Three medical marijuana initiatives will go before voters in November. State election officials in Montana and Oregon certified that initiatives in those states have qualified for the ballot. Seven states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Washington -- have passed workable medical marijuana laws through the initiative process, while voters in Arizona in 1996 passed a measure that has been unworkable. In Hawaii and Vermont, medical marijuana has come though legislative action, while Maryland legislators passed a lesser bill allowing medicinal use to be used as a defense in marijuana possession cases.
In addition to Montana, Oregon, and Columbia, Missouri, marijuana-related initiatives are now confirmed in Alaska, where regulation is the issue; medical marijuana is on the ballot in Detroit (August vote), Ann Arbor and Berkeley, and Oakland will vote on "lowest priority" initiatives directing law enforcement to work on anything other than low-level marijuana offenses instead. The Oakland measure also directs city officials to support changes in public policy that move toward a regulated marijuana market. Last-ditch efforts to get on the ballot in Arkansas (medical marijuana) and Nevada (regulation) are still underway.
In Oregon, the office of Secretary of State Bill Bradbury announced Monday that the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act II (OMMA2) had made the ballot. OMMA2 barely squeaked by, turning in 77,782 valid signatures. It needed 75,630 to qualify. Petitioners had turned in about 90,000 signatures earlier in the year, then turned in another 28,000 last month just to be safe. But with nearly 30% of the signatures disqualified, it still ended up being very close.
OMMA2 would amend the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act passed by voters in 1998 by creating a system of nonprofit dispensaries for medical marijuana patients under the regulatory eye of the Health Division of the Oregon Department of Human Services. Such dispensaries could legally sell medical marijuana to qualified patients -- a groundbreaking move if passed.
The act would also increase the amount of marijuana patients can possess from three ounces to six pounds and increase the number of patients for whom caregivers can grow. OMMA2 would also ease regulations to make it easier for patients to qualify for the program. Currently, some 9,000 Oregon residents have registered with the state.
"We need OMMA2 because sick and dying people cannot be expected to produce their own medicine," said John Sajo, director of Voter Power (http://www.voterpower.org), one of the groups spearheading the drive. "We have nearly 10,000 card holders in the state reporting good results and no significant adverse health consequences. But many patients don't have their medicine most of the time," he told DRCNet. "OMMA2 creates a safe, regulated system of supply. Unlike in California, where you have a system of clubs that supply medical marijuana but don't have a source of legitimate supply, in Oregon dispensaries will be licensed to sell medical marijuana health products legally to patients or other dispensaries."
The initiative will pass, Sajo predicted. "This initiative came out of five years of working with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, and we feel it can pass even though in some ways it might be seen as a bold step. While, unlike most other drug reform initiatives, we did not write it based on polling data but on what needed to be done to improve OMMA, we have done polling showing 80% of voters believe patients should be able to purchase medical marijuana at a dispensary."
While OMMA2 appears relatively non-controversial to Oregon voters, it has already come to the notice of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and some cable TV mouthpieces. In a July 7 edition of Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," host Bill O'Reilly and guest Andrea Barthwell, the recently resigned assistant to drug czar John Walters, gave a hint of what could be to come. Starting with the introduction of the topic, O'Reilly was a tear: He described OMMA2 as part of "the drive legalize marijuana," ridiculed its provisions to allow naturopaths and other licensed practitioners to recommend marijuana by saying "Amazonian shamans" could prescribe it, and repeatedly criticized the six-pound limit as "enough to fill a shopping cart."
Barthwell was singing counterpoint. "Two shopping carts, really," the good doctor averred. "It allows a person so much marijuana that they could supply a whole community of schoolchildren with enough marijuana to keep them intoxicated for days at a time." [Editor's Note: The O'Reilly-Barthwell transcript is worth reading in its entirety as an example of the quality of arguments used by medical marijuana's opponents. It is available at http://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread19154.shtml online.
"The O'Reilly show was illustrative of what we could face," said Sajo. "If the voters are listening to Fox News going on about the various provisions, that will make our campaign more difficult." But so far, he said, there is little organized opposition inside the state. "The opposition in 1998 was led by law enforcement, and we expect that to be the case again this year. A number of medical marijuana advocates have been meeting with a legislative advisory commission that included five law enforcement representatives, and it was clear that not only did they not like anything in OMMA2, they were still dragging their feet on OMMA," he said. "The question is whether they are organized in the sense of being willing to devote their weekends and spare time to this like we are, or whether they're just willing to say bad things to reporters."
No group has filed papers in opposition to OMMA2, Sajo said, but they are not required to until initiatives qualify and opponents start spending money.
Opposition or no, OMMA2 proponents are gearing up for victory. "Our campaign will be about showing how medical marijuana helps patients and explaining why it is difficult and in many cases impossible for patients to produce their own medicine," Sajo explained. "The restrictions in the current law basically deny patients medicine we now know helps them." And they have funding tentatively lined up for a TV advertising campaign to help get that message out.
Meanwhile, in Montana, an initiative that would bring medical marijuana to Big Sky Country qualified for the ballot July 16. The Montana secretary of state's office reported that the initiative, I-148, presented 22,059 certified signatures and qualified in 28 counties. To make the ballot, the measure needed 20,510 signatures and to qualify in 28 counties -- another close one, but Montanans will get to vote on medical marijuana in November.
According to initiative sponsors the Medical Marijuana Policy Project of Montana (http://www.montanacares.org), the measure will allow patients with cancer, AIDS, and other serious diseases and conditions to use marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. Patients would be issued identification cards by the state government, and would be allowed to grow their own and possess up to six plants and one ounce of smokeable pot.
"This initiative will allow individuals to cultivate and use medical marijuana without fear of prosecution," said Paul Befumo, campaign spokesman for I-148. "It will allow physicians to recommend medical marijuana for a variety of listed illnesses and conditions."
In a February 2002 poll, 66% of Montanans approved of medical marijuana, and Befumo told DRCNet he thinks that still holds true, citing not only increasing public awareness of its efficacy but also the state's conservative leanings. "The issue has support all over the state," Befumo said. "The traditional view is that the Western part of the state is more liberal than the East, but that doesn't seem to matter. In some ways, this is a conservative issue. Montanans believe in states' rights and limited government, and they will say they don't need some politico or some bureaucrat from Washington, DC, telling them what kind of treatment their doctor can give them."
As in Oregon, initiative organizers are keeping an eye out for drug czar John Walters and his henchmen. "The ONDCP has said they will oppose these initiatives, so they've given us fair warning," said Befumo, a 23-year Montana resident. "My guess is if there is any organized opposition it will be stirred up from Washington. The question is whether it will be open and people can see it's from Washington or whether they will try to do it surreptitiously," he warned.
Befumo and MMPPM are settling in for a fight. According to an e-mail sent to supporters from Rob Kampia, director of the national Marijuana Policy Project, MPP wants to spend $100,000 on a media campaign, although it doesn't yet have all the money. "We will be embarking on a campaign to educate the public about what this initiative does and does not do," said Befumo. "The arguments against are basically that marijuana has no medicinal value, and I think that's great! That position is so outrageous and so easily disproved by the current state of the science that it will be easy to show who's telling the truth and who's not."
And in Columbia, Missouri, the Columbia Alliance for Patients and Education (CAPE) has won certification of two municipal initiatives. The first would order city prosecutors to dismiss misdemeanor marijuana or paraphernalia possession charges if the defendant can show a doctor supports his need for marijuana for a legitimate medical condition. The other initiative, known as the Smart Sentencing Initiative, would require prosecutors to refer misdemeanor possession cases to the municipal -- not the state -- court, remove the possibility of jail time, and reduce the maximum fine from $1,000 to $250.
"We have succeeded in certifying both initiatives," said CAPE spokesperson Dan Viets, a local defense attorney and member of the NORML board of directors. "We will be on the ballot in November," he told DRCNet.
"The sentencing initiative eliminates all jail time and cuts the fines," Viets added, "but it also very importantly means you do not lose your eligibility for federal student financial assistance. The Higher Education Act only applies to state or federal convictions, not municipal ones. We think others should be aware of that and if they have municipal courts, they should do the same thing."
Seven states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Washington -- have passed workable medical marijuana laws through the initiative process, while voters in Arizona in 1996 passed a measure that has been unworkable. In Hawaii and Vermont, medical marijuana has come though legislative action, while Maryland legislators passed a lesser bill allowing medicinal use to be used as a defense in marijuana possession cases.