Initiatives Heat Up V: Arizona to Vote on Marijuana Decrim, Much More 8/16/02

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The Arizona Secretary of State's office announced Monday that an initiative that would decriminalize the possession of marijuana had submitted sufficient signatures to make the November ballot. Supporters of Proposition 203, also known as the "Drug Medicalization, Prevention, and Control Act of 2002," submitted 164,264 signatures, or more than 160% of the minimum needed, the Secretary of State's office announced.

The listed sponsor of the initiative is The People Have Spoken, a Phoenix group headed by former Goldwater Institute head John Norton. The same group spearheaded 1996's Proposition 200, a drug treatment and medical marijuana initiative, as well as another round of initiatives in 1998 designed to overturn the Arizona legislature's attempts to undo Prop 200. The People Have Spoken attempted an initiative similar to this one in 2000, but abandoned it after concerns arose about its language possibly allowing marijuana trafficking.

The group is funded in part by John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix and, along with financier George Soros and insurance magnate Peter Lewis, one of the so-called "troika" of heavy-spending drug reform philanthropists whose spending largely directs where well-funded drug reform efforts take place.

Proposition 203 ran a stealthy signature-gathering campaign, shying away from media coverage as paid petitioners did their work, although rambunctious Maricopa County (Phoenix) District Attorney Rick Romley, an inveterate drug warrior sensing fresh election fodder, jumped on Sperling and campaign spokesman Sam Vagenas in July. Indicative of the quality of Romley's attack was the following dire warning: "We are going to have every guy in the world coming to Arizona because he can get pot free," Romley said, challenging Sperling to face off against him in a public debate.

Nice stunt, but Sperling hasn't bitten yet. Instead, his people got Proposition 203 on the ballot. According to a summary by legislative analysts, the measure would among other things:

  • Decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, two marijuana plants, and marijuana-related paraphernalia. Those caught with small amounts of marijuana would face a civil citation and possible fine of $250 for a first or second offense, or $750 for a third offense or more within two years. The fine could be waived upon completion of an approved drug education program.
  • Require the Department of Public Safety to provide up to two ounces of marijuana free of charge to any qualified medical marijuana patient within a 30-day period. The DPS stash would come from Arizona marijuana seizures and would be held at secure locations, which DPS would be required to divulge to the public.
  • Require the Arizona Department of Health Services to create a medical marijuana registry card system for people "who provide written documentation from the person's attending physician" that medical marijuana may mitigate symptoms of a debilitating physical condition. Cardholders and designated primary caregivers would be able to possess two ounces or grow two plants without any penalty.
  • Require that anyone convicted for a first or second time on drug paraphernalia charges receive probation.
  • Require that anyone serving time for personal possession or use of a controlled substance be paroled or released to community supervision, unless he is serving another sentence or is judged a danger to the public by the Board of Executive Clemency.
Unlike the initiative in neighboring Nevada, Proposition 203 does not remove simple possession of small amounts of marijuana from the grip of intrusive drug laws. But like the Nevada initiative, it implies a challenge to the federal Controlled Substances Act (or at least the way it is currently interpreted and enforced) over the creation of a state-run or state-authorized marijuana distribution system. While the states begin to attempt to find ways out of the drug war mire, the Bush administration shows no signs of bending. A confrontation looms unless and until the federal government changes its ways. And the states aren't waiting.

Visit and click on Proposition 203 for the state legislative analysts' summary. Visit to read the text of the initiative.

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Issue #250, 8/16/02 A Message to Our Readers: 250 Issues of The Week Online | US Seeks Civil Injunction Against Lakota Hemp Grower, Supporters Celebrate Successful Harvest | DRCNet Interview: Jack Cole, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition | Initiatives Heat Up I: Tumultuous Week in Nevada, Cops Flip-Flop on Endorsement, Resort to Bald-Faced Lies | Initiatives Heat Up II: Storm Clouds over Ohio | Initiatives Heat Up III: Michigan Governor Flails and Fails in Anti-Initiative Move | Initiatives Heat Up IV: DC "Treatment Not Jail" Initiative Makes November Ballot, Excludes Marijuana, Heroin, Psychedelics | Initiatives Heat Up V: Arizona to Vote on Marijuana Decrim, Much More | Initiatives Heat Up VI: DC Board of Elections Rejected Thousands of Valid Signatures, MPP Challenging | Newsbrief: Afghan Heroin Labs Reappear | Newsbrief: Grateful Dead Reunion Just Like Old Days -- Many Arrested | Newsbrief: NJ Bans Devices That Defeat Drug Tests | Newsbrief: East Europe Teens Catching Up to West in Drug Use | Newsbrief: DARE Axed in Cincy -- Dayton Next? | Newsbrief: Canada Judge Rips DEA Law Violations | Newsbrief: NORML Not Allowed at Indiana State Fair | Newsbrief: Infected Needles, Alcoholism Lead to Increased Liver Damage, Deaths in England, Study Finds | Legislative Alerts: Rave Bill, Medical Marijuana, Higher Education Act Drug Provision | The Reformer's Calendar

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