FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 4, 1998
Contacts: Allen St. Pierre; Paul Armentano, (202) 483-8751
Message From Voters To Washington: Legalize
Measures Protecting Patients Pass in Five States, District of Columbia
Washington, D.C.: Voters in states across the nation sent an unmistakable message to Congress yesterday: legalize the use of marijuana as a medicine. Voters in Alaska, the District of Columbia, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington overwhelmingly approved ballot initiatives exempting patients from criminal penalties when they use marijuana under the supervision of a physician, according to unofficial election results. Voters in Arizona reaffirmed a medical marijuana initiative passed two years ago, and rejected a legislative requirement banning physicians from prescribing marijuana until the drug receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
"The American public spoke loud and clear Tuesday, and it is time for federal officials to listen," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said. "Not only voters, but also patients, doctors, and nurses support granting seriously ill patients legal access to medical marijuana. It remains politicians in Washington -- not voters or the medical community -- that continue to support policies prohibiting the use of marijuana as a legal medicine."
Polls taken nationwide indicate that two-thirds of Americans support amending federal law to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients. This support extends beyond political party lines, surveys show. Medical organizations manifest similar support, with groups like the American Public Health Association, the AIDS Action Council, and the state nursing associations of Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia all holding positions supporting immediate prescriptive access to medical marijuana.
New laws passed in Alaska and Oregon legalize the possession of specified amounts of medical marijuana to patients enrolled in a state identification program. Patients not enrolled in the program, but who possess marijuana under their doctor's supervision, may raise an affirmative defense of medical necessity against state criminal marijuana charges. State law in Nevada requires voters to reapprove medical marijuana again in the year 2,000 before the measure can officially become law.
Washington state's new medical marijuana law allows patients to possess up to a 60 day supply of marijuana if they have a recommendation from their physician. Voters in the District of Columbia approved a similar measure, according to exit poll results. However, Board of Elections officials will not release officials figures citing a federal amendment prohibiting District officials from spending any money to legalize medical marijuana. Medical marijuana petitioners are challenging the constitutionality of the amendment in federal court.
Clinical, survey, and anecdotal data
demonstrates that marijuana is effective in a) reducing nausea and vomiting associated
with chemotherapy, b) reducing intraocular pressure in glaucoma, c)
stimulating the appetite for persons living with AIDS and suffering from wasting syndrome, d) controlling spasticity associated with spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis, e) controlling seizures associated with seizure disorders, and f) alleviating chronic pain. Evidence also indicates that legally available synthetic THC (Marinol) often provides only limited relief to a select group of patients, particularly when compared to whole smoked marijuana therapy.
"Voters know through first and second hand experiences that marijuana works as a medicine," Stroup said. "The results today demonstrate this fact. It is unconscionable that politicians and law enforcement are willing to let seriously ill patients suffer to defend a morally bankrupt policy. Thankfully, voters have the compassion and the common sense to do otherwise."
Two-Thirds Of Oregon Voters Reject Criminal
Salem, Oregon: Oregonians voted 2 to 1 to reject a proposal that would have imposed criminal penalties for the simple possession of marijuana, according to unofficial election results. The vote retained a 1973 state law decriminalizing minor marijuana offenses.
"Millions of Americans smoke marijuana, and like other Americans they work hard, raise families, and contribute to their communities," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said. "They are not part of the crime problem and we should stop treating them like criminals."
Stroup continued: "The resounding vote by Oregon's citizens rejecting criminal penalties for marijuana smokers should ignite a long-overdue national debate over our current marijuana policies that result in the arrest of over half a million marijuana smokers each year.
Measure 57, approved by the Legislature in 1997, sought to increase the penalty for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana from a non-criminal "violation" to a class C misdemeanor. Penalties under the proposed law included 30 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, six month driver's license suspension, and property forfeiture. Voters rejected the measure 67% to 37%.
"Measure 57 would have cost Oregonians millions in already scarce law enforcement resources that should be focused on violent crime, broadly expanded the powers of law enforcement to invade citizen's privacy, and needlessly criminalized tens of thousands of otherwise law abiding citizens who smoke marijuana.
"For 25 years, Oregon has stood as a leader in the fight for rational marijuana laws. Tuesday's vote continues a proven and successful state policy that treats marijuana smokers like responsible adults and not criminals."