Medical Marijuana Advocates Seek Ballot Initiative to Test States’ Right to Distribute Drug
The activist group that backed Proposition 215, California's 1996 medical marijuana initiative, wants to establish a new ballot measure in Arizona, Washington or Oregon to test whether a state government can distribute the drug to patients, the Los Angeles Times reports. Under the measure, a state-run network would distribute medicinal marijuana to patients rather than leaving patients responsible for acquiring the drug. Bill Zimmerman, head of the Santa Monica-based Americans for Medical Rights, said the group would use such a ballot initiative next November to set up an "almost certain battle" with the Supreme Court over states' rights to distribute medical marijuana. He added that a ballot initiative in California had been "ruled out" because of the costs of running a campaign there (Bailey, Los Angeles Times, 11/25). In May, the Supreme Court ruled that "medical necessity" is not a valid defense against a federal law banning the distribution of marijuana, meaning that patients who obtain marijuana under Proposition 215 still can be charged with violating the federal Controlled Substances Act (California Healthline, 5/15). Seven states, including Arizona, Washington and Oregon, have laws allowing the use of medical marijuana, putting them "in conflict" with the federal act, which prohibits the manufacturing, sale or use of the drug. Recently, federal agents have shut down a cannabis club in Los Angeles, "raided a Ventura County garden operated by patients and seized medical records from a prominent medpot doctor in Northern California," actions criticized by many officials and advocates.
According to some medical marijuana advocates, one source of the conflict between the states and the federal government is the "free-form style of the cannabis clubs," which distribute the drug directly to patients. "The movement has wanted it both ways," Jay Cavanaugh, national director of American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, said, adding, "They've wanted cannabis as a medicine, but they haven't wanted to treat it like a medicine." Zimmerman said that short of a new federal law allowing marijuana to be distributed through traditional pharmacies -- an unlikely prospect -- the "next best step" would be to establish a state-sponsored distribution system. "We want to test whether federal courts have the power to overrule states in these situations," he said (Los Angeles Times, 11/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.