In AZ: Calling for a “genuine” debate on medical pot

It is so seldom that we get honesty in drug war politics. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer has been talking about imaginary drug cartel beheadings for months. And we all know that marijuana is a “gateway” drug (or isn’t it?).

That’s why I was so pleased while reading The Arizona Republic recently to see the head of the campaign to defeat Proposition 203, Arizona’s medical marijuana initiative, call for a “genuine discussion.” (You know, an honest debate about reality, devoid of propaganda and scare tactics.)

Then I saw why Carolyn Short said she was leading the “Keep AZ Drug Free” fight against medical marijuana: because her stepdaughter is a meth addict. She also trotted out problems in other states with far different medical marijuana restrictions than would be in place in Arizona. There goes that “genuine discussion” thing. (Read E.J. Montini’s completely unskeptical column here.)

Last week, while I was on vacation, it got worse. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall spoke out about her concerns with the measure at a Tucson City Council meeting. When the medical marijuana campaign manager got up to correct her misinformation, it was so bad that one local television station insisted that LaWall was set up for embarrassment.

Here’s the “genuine” reality: Arizonans voted to legalize medical marijuana 14 years ago, the same year as voters approved it in California and by a larger margin. The Legislature blocked the law, voters reauthorized it, but a wording error kept Arizona’s law from going into effect. (It said doctors could “prescribe” marijuana, which is against federal law, instead of “recommend.”)

In the meantime, 13 more states legalized medical marijuana with vastly different regulations. In California, nearly anyone with $150 can get a prescription for pot. In Arizona, truly sick people who use marijuana to treat their illnesses or the side effects of chemotherapy risk felony arrest. (Read my Phoenix Magazine story about the genuinely sick patients I met at an underground medical marijuana co-op in Tucson here and a previous blog post on medical marijuana and Mexican drug cartels here.)

In November, Arizonans will get to vote on a medical marijuana initiative that would probably be the strictest in the nation. It is not the panacea desired by pot activists. (As a reporter I attended a Phoenix NORML meeting last year where a heated debate broke out over support for the measure by members who thought it didn’t go nearly far enough.)

  • Under Arizona’s proposed measure, most sick people would not be allowed to grow their own marijuana. That drives most pot activists crazy. You could only grow your own if you live more than 25 miles from a dispensary.
  • While Short and LaWall both talked about the vague conditions and lax regulations that allow not-so-sick people in some other states to qualify for medical pot, that wouldn’t be the case under Arizona’s law. You would have to be suffering from a “a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition” or its treatment (i.e. chemotherapy). (Read the measure yourself here. See #3 under the “Definitions” section.)
  • At the council meeting, LaWall resorted to a powerful NIMBY scare tactic: She noted that there were 545 medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles “more than the number of Starbucks and Subway sandwich shops combined.” She failed to note that the Arizona initiative imposes a strict cap: a maximum of 124 dispensaries would be allowed statewide. Statewide. That’s a maximum of one dispensary for every 10 licensed pharmacies.
  • Then there is the contention that medical marijuana is the first step toward complete legalization. It took 14 years for California to take step number two then, and it is the only state that has moved forward with legalization. Proposition 203 campaign manager Andrew Myers says we should be able to consider the two issues separately, and he’s right. Medical marijuana shouldn’t be defacto legalization, but opposition to legalization shouldn’t halt the debate about medical use either. OxyContin, morphine and any number of much more dangerous and addictive drugs are legal by prescription and no one says that is the first step toward legalizing them for recreational use.
  • And then there is the marijuana to meth pipeline. The truth is that Short’s stepdaughter and every other meth addict probably did try marijuana first. And they probably smoked cigarettes. And drank alcohol. They may have raided their parents’ medicine cabinets and huffed their cleaning products, too. Plus they likely had sex, had emotional problems or body image issues. Some of them had bad parents or bad relationships or just really thought they would like the feeling of bugs crawling under their skin or look cooler with meth mouth. Who knows. But new research has disproven the whole “gateway” drug thing. And the statistics don’t hold up: According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.4 million Americans had used marijuana in the last month in 2007. Only 529,000 people had used meth.

I’m not advocating for passage of Arizona’s medical marijuana initiative. And there are legitimate arguments to be made against it. Frankly, as with immigration reform, I would prefer to see the federal government take action. The truth is that I agree with opponents: we need to be having an honest discussion.


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  • crazybaldhead

    September 15th, 2010

    The gateway theory has always bothered me. I would bet that 99.9% of motorcycles drivers arrested for criminal excessive speed, nation wide, began by riding a bicycle or tricycle as a child. Does this mean that letting our children ride bicycles actually increases the chances of them becoming adrenaline junkees and eventually risking their lives and the safety of others on the road? BAN THE BICYCLES!

  • autovermietung mallorca

    October 12th, 2010

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    - Laura

  • online poker

    October 13th, 2010

    hey your blog design is very nice, clean and fresh and with updated content, make people feel peace and I always like browsing your site.

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  • sarah

    October 29th, 2010

    This website and you and your messages are totally ignorant and imorral.

    Stop the war on drugs, stop sticking up for global medical companies and stop approving of people being locked up for recreational cannabis.

    You are prehistoric and should be rounded up with all the bigots and religious freaks in the States and sent to Guanatanamo bay

  • Amanda J. Crawford

    October 29th, 2010

    Hi Sarah. This site is dedicated to reporting about the failure of the drug war — so I am not sure why you think that I am drug war supporter. If you read this post, you see that the thrust of it is calling out the misinformation spread by opponents of medical marijuana.

  • Lynnie

    October 30th, 2010

    Every drug user I have ever known started with milk! Milk is the gateway drug, BAN MILK!

  • Lucifer

    November 11th, 2010

    Every one of you that’s against weed is stupid. Im a full blown stoner. I graduated high school at 16. And im on my way to college. Yes I’ve tried other drugs. And I didn’t like them. So now im a full time weed smoker. Weed is good. It dates back farther then any of you dumbasses realize. And no one cares if carolyn shorts daughter is a meth head. Her problem not ours. Its probably cuz her mums a freak. Can’t stand to see people happy so she has to make everyone else miserable. Which is fucking stupid. Weed makes me happy. It help me deal with your guys bullshit everyday. Why can’t anyof you get your heads outs each others assed and do something usefull for once. Now pardon me for being so bloody blunt and straight forward. But here’s the GODS honest facts. Weed helps me work. Weed helps me eat. Weed helps me concentrate at school. Weed made me smarter then you regards. Which is why you all have your heads up each others asses. In 5 years ill probably be making more money then all of you combined. Why you ask. WEED. MARIJUANA. POT. MOTA. whatever you want to call it. I’ve read 8 medically certified booms about marijuana. And everyone of them said exactly the same thing. Weed is good. It does NOT kill brain cells. It does NOT harm you in anyway. It does more good for the human body then ANY prescription drug out there. Its 100% natural. Not like your prescription drugs which are man made from chemicals in a lab. Weeds grows right out of the ground. No additives or anything. 100% NATURAL. NOW QUIT JERKING EACH OTHER OFF, PULLS YOUR HEADS OUT OF EACH OTHERS ASSES AND SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT HOW MARIJUANA IS BAD. Have a nice day. Yours truly, Lucifer.

  • Lucifer

    November 11th, 2010

    In my last comment I accidentally said booms Instead of books. Im sober right now so bear with me ight.

  • PPI Reclaim

    February 11th, 2011

    Motivating blog

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  • carl

    February 21st, 2016

    marijuana can be a gateway to meeting people that sell illegal drugs in areas where it is illegal. It can also familiarize ones self with smoking in general, unless you use it in tea, food, oils, etc… I personally believe that health is most important but in a maladjusted society of freaks in capitalism, I must advocate the use of ganja. It can be habit forming but it’s not chemically as addictive as nicotine or alcohol and at least it does have healthy effects epecially when ingested. I myself use the water pipe, I’m not that planned ahead that I can just eat it. I still smoke it, but the water filter is a big health advantage over smoking it without the water. It has to do with heat and hydrogen and spare electrons wanting to mate or something like that. Cancer , u know. Just use the bong, trust me. I don’t remember terminology for everything, microbiology covers it. I’m a little high. oop. Self medicating may not be a precise science but that half the fun, u gotta have fun

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