Initiative To Decriminalize Pot, Expand Medicinal Marijuana Law Qualifies For Arizona Ballot

Phoenix, AZ:  State officials announced this week that proponents of a statewide initiative which seeks to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and establish legal protections for medicinal cannabis patients turned in sufficient signatures to qualify for this November’s electoral ballot.

If approved by Arizona voters, Proposition 203: “The Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act of 2002” would reduce existing pot penalties on the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and/or two cultivated plants from a felony offense to a non-criminal, civil violation punishable by a $250 fine.  Twelve states have similar marijuana decriminalization laws.

In addition, the measure – sponsored by Arizona’s The People Have Spoken – would amend the state’s existing medicinal marijuana law to allow state-registered patients or their caregivers to legally possess up to two ounces of medical pot and grow two marijuana plants.  Non-registered patients or those who possess greater quantities of medical pot would be permitted to raise an affirmative defense of medical necessity in court.  Eight states have similar laws protecting medicinal marijuana patients.

Proposition 203 also requires the state to establish a medicinal cannabis distribution system to qualified patients.  Medical marijuana distributed by the state would either be supplied free-of-charge by the federal government or from pot seized by local law enforcement.

Additional provisions would increase penalties for violent criminals, while expanding alternative sentencing for non-violent drug offenders.  Arizonans previously approved similar sentencing provisions in 1996, and then again in 1998.

NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup praised the intent of the Arizona initiative.  “Voters in Arizona have the opportunity to stop the arrest of responsible marijuana smokers and re-focus law enforcement resources on serious and violent crime, while implementing legal protections to safeguard qualified medicinal marijuana patients,” he said.  “According to national polls, the American public strongly supports both policies and we expect that Arizona voters will as well.”

Separate drug-law reform initiatives will likely be voted on this fall in Michigan, Ohio, Nevada, South Dakota, San Francisco and Washington, DC.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup of NORML at (202) 483-5500 or Sam Vagenas, spokesman of The People Have Spoken at (602) 222-6639.  An analysis of Prop. 203 by the Arizona Legislative Council is available online.