Arizona lawmaker looks to give voters chance at repealing marijuana law - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Arizona lawmaker looks to give voters chance at repealing marijuana law

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Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013 6:24 pm

PHOENIX -- Saying voters have seen enough, a veteran lawmaker wants to give them a chance to repeal the state's 2-year-old medical marijuana program.

The proposal by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, would repeal the entirety of Proposition 203 approved in 2010. Kavanagh said the measure, which passed by just 4,340 votes out of nearly 1.7 million ballots statewide, has proven to be a failure.

Kavanagh likely could get the 16 votes in the Senate and 31 in the House he needs to put the issue back before voters. But he still could have an uphill fight at the ballot box despite the narrow margin of support in 2010.

The trend nationwide at the ballot box has been in the other direction. And voters in two states -- Colorado and Washington -- actually agreed last year to make possession of small amounts of the drug legal, even without a medical reason.

Kavanagh said he never was a fan of Proposition 203 which allows those with a doctor's recommendation to get a card from the state allowing them to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. But it was a recent story, first reported last week by Capitol Media Services, that got his attention.

"The revelation ... that one out of nine school children who smoke marijuana illegally acquire it from cardholders to me was the last straw,'' he said.

Kavanagh acknowledged that the report, prepared by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, was not confined to what percentage of high schoolers got their marijuana from cardholders.

It also revealed that about one in six said they got their alcohol from a parent or guardian, with about an equal number saying they got it from another family member. And close to 30 percent who used prescription drugs to get high -- and not for medical reasons -- said they obtained them from the home medicine cabinet.

But Kavanagh said those facts do not mean the state should not do what it can to shut off the supply of marijuana where it can.

"Let's crack down on parents and people who provide the other substances to kids,'' he said. "Let's not simply add a third item and make it even more available to children.''

Kavanagh said the fact that cardholders are selling or giving away some of their marijuana should not be a surprise. He pointed out that the amount of the drug people can obtain legally adds up to close to four pounds a year.

No one involved with the original ballot measure returned calls late Thursday.

During the 2010 election, Andrew Myers, campaign manager for the medical who managed the medical marijuana initiative, acknowledged that the amount might seem excessive at first glance. But he said that is based on the idea that everyone with a prescription will smoke it.

He said ingesting marijuana is "the easiest route'' for many people, including including the vulnerable and frail, to get its effects. Myers said that, quite simply, it takes more marijuana being eaten or put into tea to get the same effect as lighting it up.

Misuse by cardholders aside, Kavanagh said the experience with the law, which first took effect in 2011, shows it has not lived up to its promotion.

"The voters were sold a bill of misinformation,'' Kavanagh said. "They were led to believe that the users would be sympathetic cancer victims on chemotherapy and glaucoma sufferers when, in reality, they're only a small part of the users.''

Data from the state Department of Health Services, which administers the program, show that nearly three-fourths of the more than 33,000 cardholders are male, with nearly half of them younger than 40. And close to 90 percent of patients approved for use of the drug are complaining of chronic pain; the closest second is nausea at 7.5 percent.

While backers of the medical marijuana initiative needed to gather about 150,000 valid signatures to put the issue on the 2010 ballot, Kavanagh's proposal has a much smaller hurdle: He needs the backing of just 31 representatives and 16 senators to put the question of repeal back before voters in 2014; it does not even require the signature of Gov. Jan Brewer.

Kavanagh conceded that there was no well-funded campaign against Proposition 203 in 2010. Proponents spent close to $795,000; the foes had less than $25,000.

But Kavanagh said he is hoping those against the proposal come forward this time -- assuming his measure is approved by the Legislature -- to provide the financing for a campaign.

Proposition 203 actually was defeated in 12 of the state's 15 counties. But that was more than countered by very strong support in Pima and Coconino counties; it also was approved in Santa Cruz County.

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