2 marijuana initiative drives under way - East Valley Tribune: News

2 marijuana initiative drives under way

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Posted: Monday, September 28, 2009 8:10 pm | Updated: 2:31 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A new drive has been launched to reduce the penalty for having small amounts of marijuana to a fine. Phoenix resident Dennis Bohlke filed the necessary legal papers to begin collecting signatures to put the measure on the 2010 ballot. The maximum penalty for those convicted of having four ounces of marijuana or less would be $300.

A new drive has been launched to reduce the penalty for having small amounts of marijuana to a fine.

Phoenix resident Dennis Bohlke filed the necessary legal papers to begin collecting signatures to put the measure on the 2010 ballot. The maximum penalty for those convicted of having four ounces of marijuana or less would be $300.

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Those with more could still be sent to jail — but not for long.

Possession of up to two pounds of the drug would carry a maximum penalty of 30 days behind bars. And the maximum jail time for more than that would be six months.

Bohlke, who acknowledged he does not have any organized backing or promised financial support, has until July 1 to get the required 153,365 signatures to force a public vote.

His proposal actually is the second initiative drive on the subject.

A separate group with more than $100,000 in funding from the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project wants voters to allow doctors to essentially prescribe marijuana to patients who are suffering from any one of a list of conditions.

Campaign Chairman Joe Yuhas said his group already has half of the signatures it needs.

Yuhas also said the new initiative does not address a specific need.

“We’re seeking the passage of the initiative in order to meet the needs of patients,” he said. Yuhas said leaving possession of marijuana a crime, even a minor one, does not do that.

Bohlke, however, said that proposal is insufficient. He said his aim is to ensure that those who use marijuana, for whatever reason, do not run the risk of major prison time.

Under existing law, even possession of the smallest amount is a felony that could mean a year in state prison.

A 1996 voter-approved law specifies that first- and second-time drug possessors cannot be imprisoned. But they are required to undergo counseling if convicted.

Bohlke said that’s not an answer, if for no other reason than the person still can end up with a felony conviction unless prosecutors use their discretion to treat it as a misdemeanor.

That conviction on the record, he said, carries implications.

A software engineer, Bohlke, 55, said he would not discuss any experience he has had with marijuana, at least not as long as it is a felony. But he said his children, who range in age from 34 to 13, should not have to worry that their decision to use the drug could leave them with criminal records.

“They’re probably going to be involved with marijuana or have it put in their life,” he said.

“They’re going to have to run a gamut of felony convictions?” Bohlke continued. “It’s just not right.”

Bohlke said he believes the issue is so popular that there will be sufficient volunteer help for the drive to gather the necessary signatures.

He has dubbed his initiative the “Campaign Against Marijuana Prohibition 420,” the number being a recognized shorthand for smoking the drug.

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