Arizona Becomes 15th State to Approve Medical Marijuana

By a narrow margin, thumb Arizona voters have approved medical marijuana for people with chronic or debilitating diseases.

The decision makes Arizona the 15th state to have approved a medical marijuana law. California was the first in 1996, and 13 other states and the District of Columbia followed.

The ballot measure on the issue, Proposition 203, won by just 4,341 votes out of more than 1.67 million ballots counted, according to final tallies announced on Saturday.

The approval came as something of a surprise. At one point on Election Day, the measure trailed by about 7,200 votes. The gap gradually narrowed until it edged ahead during counting on Friday. The final tally was 841,346 in favor and 837,005 opposed.

“We really believe that we have an opportunity to set an example to the rest of the country on what a good medical marijuana program looks like,” said Andrew Myers, campaign manager for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project.

The Arizona measure will allow patients with diseases including cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C and any other “chronic or debilitating” disease that meets guidelines to grow plants or to buy two and a half ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

The patients must obtain a recommendation from their doctor and register with the Arizona Department of Health Services. The law allows for no more than 124 marijuana dispensaries in the state.

Backers of Proposition 203 argued that thousands of patients faced “a terrible choice” of suffering with a serious or even terminal illness or going to the criminal market for marijuana. They collected more than 252,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, nearly 100,000 more than required.

The measure was opposed by all of Arizona’s sheriffs and county prosecutors, the governor, the state attorney general and many other politicians.

Carolyn Short, chairwoman of Keep AZ Drug Free, the group that organized opposition to the initiative, said her group believed that the law would increase crime around dispensary locations, lead to more people driving while impaired and eventually lead to legalized marijuana for everyone.

She said that the major financial backer of the new measure, the Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, makes its ultimate goal clear: national legalization.

“All of the political leaders came out and warned Arizonans that this was going to have very dire effects on a number of levels,” Ms. Short said after votes for the measure pulled into the lead late Friday. “I don’t think that all Arizonans have heard those dire predictions.”

Source: NY TIMES