More MS news articles for September 2000

Two States Vote On Marijuana

Thursday September 28 1:00 PM ET
By BRENDAN RILEY, Associated Press Writer

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Marijuana is on the ballot across the West this fall, from proposals to allow its medicinal use in Colorado and Nevada to measures that would let it flourish in Alaska and the pot-growing "Emerald Triangle" of Northern California.

Recent polls suggest the proposals are likely to pass in both Nevada and Colorado. In the past four years, similar medical-marijuana measures have become law in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Maine and Hawaii.

Nevada's Question 9 would let doctors prescribe marijuana for severe illness and pain. Nevada voters approved medical marijuana by 59 percent in 1998, but adding it to the state's constitution requires another "yes" vote on Nov. 7.

Nevada has strict anti-marijuana laws, yet a recent Las Vegas Review-Journal poll found 63 percent of likely voters backed the measure, with 28 percent opposed. And the state's policy-making drug commission, which fought the measure two years ago, has been silent this year.

"Nevada voters get it. They know this is a public health issue completely unrelated to the war on drugs," said Dan Geary, a leader of the movement in favor of the measure.

Colorado's Amendment 20 would permit marijuana use for those with serious or chronic illnesses, under a doctor's care. A recent Denver Rocky Mountain News poll found 71 percent of registered voters favored the measure, and 23 percent opposed it.

It is the "the wrong message to send to our children," said Dr. Joel Karlin, a past president of the Colorado Medical Society and spokesman of Coloradans Against Legalizing Marijuana.

Advocates of medical marijuana use say it helps people suffering from ailments like glaucoma, nausea from chemotherapy and appetite loss from AIDS (news - web sites). Opponents, including the American Medical Association, say marijuana can contribute to cancer and affect eye disorders and multiple sclerosis.

Out-of-state money is pushing both measures. Their chief backer is Americans for Medical Rights, bankrolled by three tycoons: New York financier and philanthropist George Soros, Cleveland insurance mogul Peter Lewis and University of Phoenix founder John Sperling.

Since 1998, those supporting the Colorado and Nevada measures have reported raising at least $1.4 million. Opponents said have they raised less than $40,000.

Not surprisingly, there is no organized opposition in California's Mendocino County, where passage of Measure G would allow adults to grow 25 pot plants apiece as long as they are not for sale or transport.

The Northern California area produces an illegal marijuana crop with an annual street value of around $1 billion. Last year, more than 300 pot plantations were raided in Mendocino County and $204 million worth of weed was seized. Authorities believe that for every plant they find, there are 10 more out there.

Under the measure, the sheriff and the district attorney would make marijuana crime their lowest priority and county officials would seek an end to state and federal anti-marijuana laws. The district attorney and sheriff have refused to support the measure.

Alaska's ballot measure may face harder going.

Besides making marijuana legal, the initiative would give amnesty for marijuana crimes and offer restitution for time in prison.

Anchorage Police Chief Duane Udland warned that the measure would create "a drug culture, with all the young people sitting around stoned all the time."

Until 10 years ago, Alaska allowed people to have small amounts of marijuana, based on a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling. Voters banned pot completely in 1990 but later approved its medicinal use.