Group postpones Arizona marijuana initiative to focus on other states - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Group postpones Arizona marijuana initiative to focus on other states

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Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 6:39 am | Updated: 9:32 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Choosing to concentrate its efforts elsewhere, a national group has decided not to finance an initiative in Arizona to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes - at least not this year.

Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the national Marijuana Policy Project, confirmed Monday that the group, which was going to bankroll the initiative here, has decided to focus its energies - and its funds - on two other states where similar measures are already virtually assured of qualifying for the ballot.

In Michigan, a group called the Coalition for Compassionate Care has submitted petitions with an estimated 496,000 signatures to allow patients who have a recommendation from their doctor to use marijuana.

And another group in Massachusetts has already gathered enough signatures to require state lawmakers there to consider the measure. If the Legislature does not act, some additional signatures will qualify the measure for the November ballot.

Joe Yuhas, directing the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, said it simply comes down to money.

"It was just really a strategic decision: Where can we take limited resources and best apply them?" Yuhas said.

But both Mirken and Yuhas said the intent is to pursue the initiative in Arizona in 2010. And both said Arizona will be a battleground on the issue, regardless of what voters decide this fall in Michigan and Massachusetts.

Yuhas said the Arizona group will keep the $10,000 it has received from the national group, putting it toward a 2010 initiative.

In the interim, Yuhas said the local group will not be taking positions on local races by backing - or opposing - individual candidates based on their views on the medical use of marijuana.

He said initiative backers believe only a direct vote of the people will actually change the law.

Yuhas did say that the outcome of the presidential race could also affect exactly how an Arizona initiative is crafted.

He noted that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has raided some of the California "dispensaries" set up under that state's statutes. Yuhas said whoever takes over the White House may direct the DEA to take a less hostile approach to allowing states to pursue their own policies on the use of marijuana.

Arizona already has a law on the books allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana and other otherwise illegal drugs to seriously and terminally ill patients.

But that measure, approved by voters in 1996, never really took effect. That's because the DEA threatened to revoke the prescription-writing privileges of any physician who prescribed marijuana.

Subsequent initiatives have instead said that doctors could "recommend" marijuana.

That distinction is critical: In a historic 2003 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court barred the DEA from penalizing California doctors who recommend marijuana to patients.

The justices accepted arguments that doctors have a First Amendment right to discuss all options with their patients.

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