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Office Of National Drug Control Policy Restates Opposition To Medical Marijuana Initiatives

Friday, 15 November 1996

Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey re-emphasized the administration's opposition to voter-approved drug reform initiatives in California and Arizona that endorse the use of marijuana as a medicine. The announcement came following several closed-door meetings with law enforcement and state officials.

There could not be a worse message to young people than the provisions of these referenda,

stated McCaffrey in a November 15 press release.

Just when the nation is trying its hardest to educate teenagers not to use psychoactive drugs, now they are being told that 'marijuana [is] medicine.' The conflicting message is extremely harmful.

The California initiative says that,

Patients or defined caregivers, who possess or cultivate marijuana for medical treatment recommended by a physician, are exempt from the general provisions of law which otherwise prohibit possession or cultivation of marijuana.

It further provides that,

Physicians shall not be punished or denied any right or privilege for recommending marijuana to a patient for medical purposes.

The Act does not supersede state legislation prohibiting persons from possessing or cultivating marijuana for non-medical purposes.

Proposition 200 in Arizona, known as the "Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act," is broader than California's measure and would essentially "medicalize" Arizona's drug policy. The Act calls for mandatory, court supervised treatment and probation as an alternative to incarceration for non-violent drug users and provides expanded drug treatment programs. It also permits doctors to prescribe controlled drugs such as marijuana to patients suffering from serious illnesses such as glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and AIDS; however, this aspect of the measure is in direct conflict with federal law. Arizonans voted in favor of the initiative by a vote of 65 to 35.

"By our judgment, increased drug abuse in every category will be the inevitable result of the referenda," said McCaffrey.

In the weeks following the initiatives passage, proponents have speculated as to whether the federal government will target physicians and patients complying with the new state laws. On this matter, McCaffrey stated that federal law remains in "full force" despite the states' actions and that the Justice Department "will take action" when the evidence merits.

It is unfortunate that General McCaffrey chose only to meet with those who oppose the notion of marijuana as medicine when meeting to strategize the federal response to the passage of the California and Arizona initiatives,

said NORML Deputy Director Allen St. Pierre, who noted that at least two physicians who learned of the meetings were barred from attending.

These initiatives address health issues; to exclude input from physicians who are explicitly and specifically mentioned is unacceptable.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858.