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Newshawk: Sledhead
Pubdate: Sun, 30 Jul 2000
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2000 The Denver Post
Contact: letters@denverpost.com
Address: 1560 Broadway, Denver, CO 80202
Fax: (303) 820.1502

Author: Ron Bain
Note: Ron Bain is a former Western Slope newspaper editor and past
chairman of the Libertarian Party of Colorado. He owns and operates a resume writing
service in Boulder.


Coloradans will have a second opportunity to vote on medical marijuana in November, and
this time, by court order, their votes will be counted.

During a 1998 ballot access court battle that lasted almost until Election Day, the group
sponsoring the medical marijuana initiative in this state, Coloradans for Medical Rights,
tangled with then Secretary of State Vikki Buckley over the exact number of signatures on
their petitions.

The ballots got printed with the initiative on them while the court battle raged on. Ultimately,
the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that, although it was too late to reprint the ballots, votes
cast in 1998 for medical marijuana would not be counted. Instead, the initiative would
reappear on the 2000 ballot for official consideration.

After Buckley died, it was discovered that petitions containing several hundred signatures had
been mysteriously misplaced within the secretary of state's office. If the initiative passes,
Colorado would be the ninth state to challenge the federal government's "zero tolerance"
policies by legalizing cannabis in one form or another. California was the first in 1996, passing
a citizen-sponsored medical marijuana initiative by a comfortable margin. Earlier this month,
Hawaii's governor signed into law a combined medical marijuana/agricultural hemp bill sent to
him by the state legislature.

Since 1996, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Maine, the state of Washington and
Washington, D.C., have approved initiatives to liberalize laws regarding the growth,
possession and/or medical use of cannabis.

Coloradans for Medical Rights, the original sponsoring organization, views the initiative as a
referendum on the doctor/patient relationship.

"This gives patients and doctors, not the government, one more treatment op tion for
glaucoma, cancer, AIDS and other serious illnesses," said Luther Sy mons, president of
CMR. Reorganized for the upcoming election fight, CMR plans to use grass-roots politicking
as well as mass media advertising to ensure a victory, according to Symons.

"In 1998, we were able to do some sophisticated exit polling that showed it would have
passed with 60 percent of the vote," he said, citing recent polls show ing that support has
grown to 70 percent.

Some of that support is soft, but not for the reasons that opponents hope. Many supporters
of the initiative believe it's only a step in the right direction.

"I'll hold my nose and vote yes purely for the symbolic value in favor of medical marijuana,"
said Tom Barrus, an expharmacist and legalization advocate who held the curious position of
being the only qualified objector to the initiative during the original ballot title setting process.
Barrus cites "bad language" in the initiative for his reservations.

Laura Kriho, spokesperson for the Colorado Hemp Initiative Project, said, "We support the
initiative because it might help some patients. And we see it as a referendum on the
relegalization of cannabis for all uses."

The initiative would create a state registry of authorized users of medical marijuana and
actually lower the felony threshold for possession by non-registry users to eight ounces from
16 ounces. Barrus said another constitutional amendment probably would be required in two
years to correct these problems.

Opponents have recruited medical professionals who say marijuana does not provide any
relief that is not readily available through other, legal medicines; there are many other medical
professionals who attribute remarkable medicinal qualities to cannabis. A federal judge in
California, after reconsidering that issue, agrees that marijuana has potential medicinal value.
U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer, under appellate court orders to reconsider
marijuana for seriously ill patients who have no effective legal alternative, in mid-July
modified an earlier injunction against an Oakland, Calif., cannabis club, allowing distribution
to resume.

Peter McWilliams, a California AIDS victim who could only stomach his highly toxic
medicines with a few tokes, died earlier this year by drowning in his own vomit. Denied the
medical necessity defense in federal court, where the judge refused to even acknowledge the
existence of California's medical marijuana law, McWilliams reluctantly accepted a plea
bargain on federal charges of growing marijuana for personal use. Serving a probation
sentence and subjected to drug testing, he gave up marijuana, but without it, had extreme
difficulty keeping his AIDS medicine down.

As the McWilliams case shows, even if Colorado voters decide to legalize medical cannabis,
voters cannot prevent the federal government from enforcing its drug laws within Colorado,
nor can the voters require that federal prosecutors and judges show an iota of compassion
toward people suffering from severe, life-threatening illnesses. There's no medicine for hearts
empty of compassion.
MAP posted-by: Derek