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Prop. seeks to legalize medical pot

By Jesse Greenspan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday October 22, 2002

When Dan Shapiro, an assistant professor in the psychiatry department, was diagnosed with cancer in 1987, he tried to take the pain without the use of drugs.

Once it became too much, he tried Marinol, which is usually found in pill form and contains high concentrations of THC, a chemical that kills pain and is also the active ingredient in marijuana.

"Marinol was an unrelenting chemical high, whereas with marijuana, I could smoke very little and get the effect I wanted," he said.

With Proposition 203 set to appear on the ballot on Nov. 5, people like Shapiro may no longer have to grow marijuana in their backyards to relieve their pain.

The initiative, which is sponsored by "The People Have Spoken," would legalize medical marijuana in Arizona.

"It's ludicrous that physicians have drugs like morphine and Percocet (at their disposal) and don't have something far less addictive," Shapiro said.

Besides requiring the Department of Public Safety to distribute marijuana free of charge if a person's physician supplied written documentation, Prop. 203 would also decriminalize marijuana for personal use.

A "yes" vote would require only a $250 fine for people caught with less than two ounces, and the fine could be waived if the person agreed to complete a court-approved education program.

In addition, Prop. 203 would increase the penalty for violent crimes committed under the influence of drugs, while the minimum sentence for non-violent offenders would be eliminated.

But there is strong opposition to Prop. 203.

"It's real simple," said Tony Ryan, a public information agent for the DEA in Tucson. "There is no such thing as medical marijuana. It's called Marinol and it's legal with a prescription."

The American Medical Society, the Glaucoma Society and the American Cancer Society, among others, all reject the idea of marijuana as medicine, he added.

This is not the first time a marijuana proposition has been on the ballot, as Prop. 200 passed overwhelmingly by a 65 percent to 35 percent vote in 1996. This allowed a physician to prescribe marijuana and other "Schedule 1 drugs" with the concurrence of a second physician.

The "schedule" that a drug is in identifies its perceived medical use. A drug's schedule determines whether it can be prescribed.

The Arizona State Legislature overruled Prop. 200 a year later, and a doctor cannot currently prescribe marijuana in Arizona, Ryan said.

Even if the proposition does pass, medicinal marijuana would still be illegal under federal law, and violators could be prosecuted.

"In California, they are going after people providing marijuana and I would imagine the federal government would do the same here," said Lynn Reyes, a prevention specialist at the UA health services.

Shapiro said that this would only be a small step toward the legalization of medicinal marijuana.

"As long as the Supreme Court rules (marijuana) is illegal, this is obviously not going to be the final word," he said.

And while the DEA has yet to form an official position should Prop 203 pass, Ryan said he is against the use of marijuana in any form.

"Why would you give cancer patients something with 400 carcinogens in it?" he asked. "It doesn't make sense."

For creative writing sophomore Frank Harris, he would like to see less bias on both sides and more research on the potential benefits of medical marijuana.

Computer science junior Ming Liu agreed.

"I think there needs to be more research as far as that goes," she said.


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