November 8, 2000
By Kevin Flynn
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
It will soon be legal for some chronically ill people to possess and use marijuana in Colorado.
However, it still will be illegal for them to get it.
Backers of Amendment 20, the medical marijuana initiative, say they will rely on the governor and legislature, among the strongest opponents of the measure, to find a way to get the illegal substance into legal hands.
"There aren't any plans in place," said Julie Roche, spokeswoman for the pro-marijuana side. "We don't have a huge plan or task force. A lot of this will have to be discussed by the governor and legislature."
The measure sets up a state registry of patients whose doctors provide written certification that they might benefit from the effects of smoking marijuana.
Experience shows that smoking marijuana can relieve pain and ease nausea from cancer treatments, AIDS and other chronically painful ailments.
But U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland said his office would continue to enforce federal drug laws that say marijuana possession is a crime. From a practical standpoint, possession of the small amounts legalized in Amendment 20 by sick people aren't likely to be prosecuted, he said Tuesday.
"But make no mistake about it, this will have no effect on federal drug laws," he said.
The amendment passed by wide enough margins in Denver and Boulder counties to overcome smaller defeats statewide.
The constitutional amendment allows people to smoke marijuana if their doctors think it might ease pain or nausea from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis or other illnesses.
Martin Chilcutt, a retired California psychotherapist who moved to Denver six years ago, was the initiator of the amendment drive in 1996.
He took a back seat during the recent campaign after working through political and legal battles that forced him off the 1998 ballot, and then back on it for this year.
He hopes to address the availability issue by forming a Cannabis Cooperative, which would help organize people legally entitled to possess and use the substance into a group that would cultivate and distribute marijuana.
Roche, who ran the pro-marijuana campaign, said the barrage of television and radio ads in the last two weeks by opponents softened support, while the pro-20 campaign ended up with a lower than anticipated advertising budget.
"We decided to put it all into TV in the last week," said Roche. Her ad used a Breckenridge doctor, "Dr. P.J.," telling viewers that he has seen the ravages of chemotherapy on cancer patients and would like to see marijuana smoking available as an option to build appetite.
Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the principal active ingredient in marijuana, is said to reduce nausea and pain.
The opponents' ads tried to portray Amendment 20's financial backers as part of a nationwide movement with the goal of legalizing some if not all drugs.
Medical marijuana, opponents said, was just a foot in the door for increased substance abuse. Synthetic THC has been marketed in pill form, although marijuana proponents say it is not as effective and in some cases worse on patients. It is soon coming out in a skin-patch form.
Dr. Joel Karlin, a physician who was active in the opposition campaign, said calling smoked marijuana "medicine" is a hoax. It's never been established through rigorous testing as a medicine and because of the wide varieties available on the street, it can't be properly administered in consistent dosages or strengths.
"We have the highest number of recreational marijuana users in the country here in Colorado, so that was working against us," he said.
Since early 1998, Coloradans for Medical Rights, which pushed the measure, raised $742,758. Nearly all of it came from Americans for Medical Rights, a Santa Monica, Calif., group bankrolled principally by three wealthy men who have a larger agenda of ending the government's War on Drugs.
They are financier and philanthropist George Soros of New York, Progressive Auto Insurance head Peter B. Lewis of Cleveland, and John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix program.
Coloradans Against Legalizing Marijuana raised $144,634, most in small
local contributions but with the single largest one coming from Denver
billionaire Philip Anschutz, who gave $25,000. Centura Health was the second-largest
giver at $9,000.