U.S. FIGHTS HARD AGAINST MEDICINAL POT
Most Montanans Would Back Initiative
HELENA - In the last few months of his short life, Travis Michalski of
Helena had lost one-third of his body weight.
His skinny frame was wracked with so much pain that he couldn't bear
his families' hugs. And the powerful medications his oncologist gave
him to combat the torment of terminal cancer wouldn't stay down.
Chemotherapy, which Michalski started immediately after he was
diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, caused him nausea from the day he
He couldn't even stomach his anti-nausea medication.
So Michalski did some Internet research, and soon took to smoking
marijuana to calm his digestive tract. The drug also took the edge off
the anxiety he dealt with every day, knowing he would die and leave
his 8-year-old son behind.
Michalski told his parents about his choice, and they didn't
"It wasn't a hard decision," said his mother, Teresa Michalski of
Helena. "But it was a scary decision."
Teresa Michalski was worried the police would find out, and would
force her 29-year-old son to spend the last few months of his life in
jail. She was afraid the family would lose their house. She feared
their daughter would lose her federal student loans for college.
But she couldn't say no when she saw how the illicit drug eased his
suffering. She said she can't believe that some Montanans are opposing
a ballot initiative seeking to legalize the medical use of marijuana
Ballot Initiative 148, which Montanans will be able to vote on in the
general election Nov. 2, would protect patients, their doctors and
their caregivers from arrest and prosecution for the medical use of
"What in their head gives them the right to tell a patient they can't
Teresa Michalski asked. "If the doctors weren't so afraid of the
repercussions, they would be endorsing this."
Passage of the measure would make Montana the 1
0th state to allow
medicinal use of marijuana. Medical marijuana was approved by voters
in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
In Hawaii, a law was passed by the Legislature and signed by the
governor in 2000. In Vermont, a law was passed by the Legislature and
was allowed to become law without the governor's signature in May.
The measure is being backed financially by the national Marijuana
Policy Project of Washington, D.C. Paul Befumo of Missoula, treasurer
of the Marijuana Policy Project of Montana, is traveling the state
this fall to stump for the initiative.
Proponents of medical marijuana say smoking the plant relieves nausea,
increases appetite, reduces muscle spasms, relieves chronic pain and
reduces pressure in the eyes. It can be used to treat the symptoms of
AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma, among other diseases,
While a recent Gazette State Poll shows that 58 percent of likely
Montana voters approve of the measure, marijuana supporters face tough
Among their staunchest opponents are the White House and federal
Just last week, the White House sent Scott Burns of the National Drug
Control Policy Office on a multiple-city tour of Montana, where he
spent the majority of his time speaking against the ballot measure. He
said legalization of medical marijuana sends the wrong message to children.
He also said federal law, which prohibits the use and possession of
marijuana, trumps any of the permissive laws that states pass.
"There is no safe harbor," Burns cautioned. "If this initiative
passes, the (Drug Enforcement Agency) is not going away. It is still
illegal in the U.S. to possess marijuana."
Opponents of the measure also say the medical argument for marijuana
Burns said the marijuana lobbyists in Washington, D.C., are "conning"
people into believing there are benefits to the drug. He said no
credible medical authority, such as the American Medical Association,
has ever endorsed the drug.
"There are better and more effective treatments than marijuana," Burns
said, brushing aside the argument that pot makes terminal patients
Burns said heroin also makes people "feel good" but doctors don't
Roger Curtiss, director of alcohol and drug services for Anaconda and
Deer Lodge County, said he has seen firsthand the negative effects of
pot on the state's youth.
"With all the data available to me, with all the lives that have been
ruined by drugs, I certainly have a perspective on why medical
marijuana is not the ideal medical alternative for individuals in
Montana," Curtiss said.
Curtiss pointed to new data recently released by the National Center
for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University that show
children and teens are three times more likely to be in treatment for
marijuana use than for alcohol use.
And they are six times more likely to be in treatment for marijuana
than for all other illegal drugs combined, he said. Burns said the
number of children using marijuana probably would increase in the wake
of the legalization of medical marijuana.
Finally, opponents argue that the legalization of medical marijuana
would precipitate a law enforcement nightmare.
"There's no way to regulate dosage and it would be really difficult to
regulate the lawful growing of it," said Rep. Jim Shockley, R-Victor.
Curtiss and Shockley are formally opposing the ballot initiative.
"What they're really trying to do is do away with drug laws," Curtiss
said. "And they're trying to get their foot in the door."
Out of States' Hands?
The question of whether the federal government may prosecute medical
marijuana patients in states where the practice is permitted will soon
be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the right of two
California women to possess and grow marijuana for their medicinal
needs. The U.S. Justice Department appealed the case, which the high
court will hear in coming months.
Upholding the 9th Circuit ruling "would mean the federal government
can't prosecute people in medical marijuana states for possession
within the bounds of the state's statutes," said Befumo, of the state
Marijuana Policy Project.
Befumo said the U.S. Supreme Court would not be tossing federal drug
law out the window, but would be defining federal jurisdiction.
Such a ruling "would be excellent," Befumo said.