Prop 203: Medical Marijuana

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Voters will be deciding on a medical marijuana initiative this November. Proposition 203 would protect terminally or seriously ill patients from state prosecution for using limited amounts of marijuana on a doctor’s recommendation. The proposition contains many other provisions to regulate medical marijuana. Paul Charlton of Keep Arizona Drug Free and Joe Yuhas of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project will discuss the pros and cons of proposition 203.

Ted Simons: There's only one measure on this November's ballot that was not put there by the legislature. It deals with medical marijuana. Here to talk about Proposition 203 is Joe Yuhas of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, and Paul Charlton of Keep Arizona Drug Free. Let's start with you, Joe. Why is there a need for medical marijuana in Arizona?

Joe Yuhas: Simply put, so we can stop arresting patients. Thousands of Arizona patients now are using marijuana at the recommendation of their doctor. In the course of fighting the illness, perhaps a death threatening illness, they also face the additional risk of arrest. The medical marijuana initiative would allow us to establish a regulated system of marijuana dispensaries and a regulated system where patients could access the medical marijuana as part of their treatment process.

Ted Simons: Let's start with the idea that you've got seriously ill or terminally ill patients. Why should those fear arrest?

Paul Charlton: There are terminally ill, seriously ill individuals who genuinely believe smoking marijuana will benefit them there. There are people like Mr. Yuhas that hold that belief. Well, Proposition 203 is not about medicine, it's about legalizing marijuana. It's a political bait and switch where we hold out the idea of a system, but deliver a law that legalizes marijuana. It's been bought and paid for by an organization called The Marijuana Project. They have invested over a half million dollars in this proposition and their single and monolithic goal is the legalization of marijuana. I can tell you, too, that I was a prosecutor for 16 years and I have friends that have been D.A.s for over 30 years.

Ted Simons: Respond, please.

Joe Yuhas: Heather Torgeson, our campaign chair, is an example of one of those patients. Ted, the fact of the matter is over 250,000 Arizona voters authorized this measure to go to the ballot. One of the earliest initiatives to qualify in state history. This is not about legalizing marijuana. This is about making marijuana available for medical use in a limited, highly regulated fashion. Regulated dispensaries, cards issued to patients at the recommendation of their doctor, all under the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Ted Simons: The idea that this is not impacting the community, but serving the patients' needs, both at the same time, wrong?

Paul Charlton: It is. This is where I respectfully disagree with Joe. If this were truly about delivering marijuana as medicine to the terminally ill, this project could have gone to the FDA, a government agency that for over a hundred years has protected us, and used the science they say they have and convinced the FDA to use marijuana as a medicine. But they didn't go that route. In this country we don't vote on whether or not drugs should be medicine. We look at science to make that determination. That's why the FDA is there.

Ted Simons: As far as regulation is concerned, I know a lot of folks look at California and see a mess over there in a variety of ways. This idea would have the Department of Health Services regulate virtually all of the medical marijuana process. Doesn't that make sense? Isn't that an improvement over previous attempts to work with medical marijuana?

Paul Charlton: Well, that's a common misunderstanding for two reasons. Number one, we can see our future by looking at California. If you want to look at San Diego, you can see that only 2% of the individuals receiving marijuana in San Diego are terminally ill. If you want to see who's really receiving marijuana in California, Google the "60 Minutes" program that covered California's medical marijuana program, and you'll see an undercover journalist visiting a doctor because she has pain as a result of wearing high heels. She received marijuana as a result of that. This isn't about medicine. It's about this project's desire to legalize marijuana. We know that here in Arizona we're going to see the same kinds of problems we've seen in California and Colorado where, for five minutes and $150 over the phone, you can get a doctor to prescribe it for you.

Joe Yuhas: I can tell you with absolute certainty we will not. When California passed its medical marijuana initiative a decade ago, it created an unregulated industry. Arizona will be the 16th this November, I'm confident of that. As a result of the experience in other states, we have been careful to craft an initiative that offers the regulation, the oversight of the Department of Health Services, a limited number of dispensaries, and only specific illnesses can a patient receive the recommendation for medical marijuana. So we're confident that the safeguards we've put in place in the initiative is one of the reasons why we have such broad-based support.

Ted Simons: You mentioned their doctor. Does it have to be your doctor? Can it be any M.D.?

Joe Yuhas: It would require the recommendation of a doctor. There's obviously different doctors that have different specialties in whatever illness the patient is facing, but it would have to be a medical professional who risks their own practice and license if they abuse the law.

Paul Charlton: Let me address both of those points. It can be an M.D., an osteopath, homeopath or naturopath. Proposition 203 limits the ability of those boards to go after physicians who overprescribe in this area. And we should talk about what kind of regulation the Arizona Department of Health Services will be involved in. The proposition says very clearly that before ADHS investigates a dispensary, they have to call them up and give them reasonable notice. That's not required for the inspection of a restaurant, but it's going to be required for the inspection of a marijuana dispensary.

Ted Simons: I want to get to the fact that there are other ways that THC, the impacting chemical in marijuana, can be prescribed to patients and given to patients. Let's take the pain element out of this. Folks who really believe they are getting comfort, relief, some sort of benefit from smoking marijuana as opposed to the pill form: If they are getting that relief, shouldn't we find a way to provide that relief?

Paul Charlton: I couldn't agree more. The way to do that is by going to the FDA and showing them the science that says there's a way to do that. Half million dollars were spent here to get a popular vote on whether or not we want to call a drug a medicine. The way to do it is through the FDA.

Joe Yuhas: Ted, if we've learned anything in recent experiences in Arizona, it is that we can't wait for the federal government to solve our critical issues. This is an opportunity for Arizona to join 14 other states that have taken this action. 14 other states have taken the same action. The initiative we're proposing is very mainstream, and that is one of the reasons why, again, we benefit from such broad-based support from across the state.

Ted Simons: The American Medical Association, American Cancer Society, American Glaucoma Society, M.S. Society, these are conditions listed as those affected being affected by marijuana and providing relief. None of those organizations are behind the idea of smoking marijuana for relief. Why is that?

Joe Yuhas: We're not saying it's for everyone. It's clearly an emerging issue. We are saying that patients who find this relief for the treatment they are undergoing for that illness should be allowed this option.

Ted Simons: It's easier to dose by way of smoking. The response seems to be better and the relief seems to be more impactful, again, I know the FDA, the idea of going there first. But do we wait for that? Can we do something on our own and see how it works?

Paul Charlton: I think it goes to the question you just asked, Ted. If the AMA, specifically designed to represent those patients, why haven't those organizations -- and as far as I can tell, not a single one of those organizations have given a dime to this proposition. Yet this out-of-state organization whose single monolithic goal is legalization of marijuana, is willing to spend the money. Let's make it an honest debate about the legalization of marijuana, and one where we pass a law that fairly represents what it is Arizona residents want. We are going to have a law, if this proposition is passed into law, where physicians can conduct surgery with marijuana in their system, as long as they are not impaired. Bus drivers can take our children to and from school with marijuana impairment.

Ted Simons: 30 seconds. How do you respond to that?

Joe Yuhas: There's been no evidence of that in any of the other states that have passed medical marijuana laws. There is a fixation on smoking. There are other ways to ingest the THC that provides the relief through food products and tinctures. This system will create a legal regulated system of a practice we know is going on now. The only difference is we're going eliminate the risk that patients face now of arrest.

Ted Simons: Gentlemen, we have to stop it there. Thanks for joining us.

Paul Charlton: Thank you.

Joe Yuhas: Thank you.

Paul Charlton:Keep Arizona Drug Free;Joe Yuhas:Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project;

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