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Drug Reform Measure Signed Into Law In Arizona

Monday, 09 December 1996

Arizona Gov. Fife Symington has signed Proposition 200 into law. The voter-approved measure, formally known as the "Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act," drastically reforms state drug policy by shifting the emphasis from law enforcement to treatment and education. Symington had threatened to veto the measure last month despite it having passed with 65 percent of the vote.

Although more attention has been paid to California's recenfly approved medical marijuana law, Arizona's measure is a far more radical departure from current anti-drag strategies. Specifically, Proposition 200 states the following:

  • Any person convicted of the personal possession or use of a controlled substance shall be eligible for probation. Eligibility for probation is limited to first and/or second time offenders and is contingent upon an individuals participation in an "appropriate drug treatment or education program." State funds will be set aside and made avallable to those unable to pay for such programs.
  • Non-violent persons currently in prison for personal possession of illegal drugs and not serving a concurrent sentence for another crime shall be made eligible for immediate parole and drug treatment, education and community service. Prisoners so eligible must be deemed not to be a "danger to the general public" by the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency. Currentiy, the state Department of Corrections has identified 976 inmates who are eligible for release under the new law.
  • Any person who commits a violent crime while under the influence of illegal drugs should serve 100 percent of his or her sentence with absolutely no early release.
  • Any medical doctor licensed to practice in Arizona may prescribe a controlled substance included in Schedule I to treat a disease, or to relieve the paln and suffering of a seriously or terminally ill patient. In order for the prescription to be valid, Proposition 200 requires the prescribing physician to "obtain the written opinion of a second medical doctor [stating] that the prescribing of the controlled substance is appropriate." In addition, the prescribing physician must document that scientific research exists which supports the use of the Schedule I drug being prescribed. Drafters of the legislation maintain that this last clause currently limits the Schedule I drugs that may be prescribed solely to marijuana.
  • A nine-member Parents Commission on Drug Education and Prevention shall be created to establish programs that will increase parental involvement and education about the risks and public health problems caused by the abuse of alcohol and controlled substances. Members of the commission shall be appointed by the governor for a term of two years.

"Taken as a whole, the message sent by 65 percent of the Arizona voters who supported Proposition 200 is staggering," announced NORML Deputy Director Allen St. Pierre. "Never in recent memory have such a large number of American voters so resolutely rejected our nation's federal policy of 'Do Drugs, Do Time.'"

"This could be a crack in the Berlin Wall," rejoiced Phoenix surgeon Jeffrey Singer, who campaigned for the law. "Five years from now, people will see Arizona is not suffering from mass addictions and, perhaps, even having rational discussions about decriminalization of all drugs -- that's what the drug warriors fear most."

"As with the fall of Communism, the drug wars will be over in a few years and America will be safer for it," agreed Arizona NORML Chairman Peter Wilson. Wilson and other AZ4NORML members are hoping to work with the offices of Gov. Symington and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to establish "tolerance zones" where patients with marijuana prescriptions may have them filled by state licensed marijuana dealers.

"Arizona can take pride in being the first state in the nation to realize the 'War on Drugs' is a dismal failure and has gone on long enough," summarized Arizona NORML Secretary William Green, who is licensed by the state to sell and possess marijuana. "Arizona is set to lead the nation out of the nightmarish 'War on Drugs.'"

For more information or copies of Proposition 200, please contact Allen St Pierre of NORML at (202) 483-5500. Additional information is available from Peter Wilson of AZ4NORML at (602) 395-0353 or from Sam Vagenas of Arizonans for Drug Policy Reform at (602) 285-0468. AZ4NORML may be contacted on the Internet at http://www.amug.org/~az4norml.