Saturday, November 20, 2010

Arizona voters have approved medical marijuana measure

Arizona voters have approved Proposition 203, which legalizes marijuana for medical use.

The secretary of state's unofficial results indicate that the "yes" vote on the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act has won by a narrow margin of 4,341 votes, or 50.13 percent of more than 1.67 million votes counted.

This is after Maricopa County officials finished counting about 11,000 outstanding ballots Saturday.

The "yes" and "no" votes remained neck and neck for more than a week since Election Night, with the "yes" vote trailing by at least 3,000 each day. But the "yes" vote picked up traction after elections officials started counting provisional ballots, and by Friday, it was leading by 4,421 for the first time.

Arizona will be the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana.

The general-election canvass will be held Nov. 29. The Arizona Department of Health Services has 120 days from that day to finalize all rules for implementation. The department is expected to begin reviewing dispensary and patient applications by April 2011.

Andrew Myers, campaign manager for the pro-Prop. 203 Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, said he believes there are more Arizonans who support medical marijuana than what the votes show. He said voter skepticism was rooted in concerns that Arizona's medical-marijuana program would be similar to ones in California and Colorado.

But Myers said Prop. 203 was written to create a strict and regulated medical-marijuana program.

"It's up to us now to prove them wrong and assuage those concerns," Myers said.

The state health department and local planning and zoning officials have said they would implement as many rules as possible to ensure the program is tightly regulated, and for the benefit of patients with debilitating diseases.

But Carolyn Short, chairwoman of the anti-Prop. 203 campaign Keep AZ Drug Free, said Friday that voters will find they voted for a "concept," and anybody who wants marijuana will get it. Short said Saturday that she is disappointed to see Prop. 203 pass.

Chris Ross, administrator and owner of Arizona's Medical Marijuana Community, an online forum where users can share information on doctors, dispensaries and marijuana strains, said there still will be a stigma around patients using marijuana for a while. He created the website so that patients can discreetly access information and find which doctors are sympathetic to the use of marijuana as a medicine, he said.

Ross, whose sister has stage four breast cancer, said he is "ecstatic" Prop. 203 pulled through.

"It was disappointing (at first), but when the tide turned on Friday, I was just in shock," Ross said. "The people who oppose it see the worst-case scenario, but I see the best-case scenario. People like my sister - they're going to get the help they need."

Supporters of the measure attribute the vote surge to provisional ballots, which voters cast when there is a question about the voter's eligibility. Provisional voters tend to be younger people whose addresses do not match the voter roll because they move around often, Myers said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved smoking marijuana for medical uses.

Licensed physicians could recommend medical marijuana to patients with debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and Alzheimer's disease. Patients would register for identification cards with the state health department. They could also receive up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from dispensaries or cultivate up to 12 plants if they live 25 miles or more from a dispensary.

The law allows for no more than 124 dispensaries operated by non-profits to start, proportionate to the number of pharmacies in the state.

by Michelle Ye Hee Lee The Arizona Republic Nov. 13, 2010 06:43 PM

Arizona voters have approved medical marijuana measure

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