WHITE HOUSE BATTLING MEDICAL MARIJUANA
As Teresa Michalski's weakened son Travis, 29, battled a rare form of
blood cancer last year, he turned to smoking marijuana.
"Marijuana ... helped quell my son's agony and made it possible for
him to eat," Teresa Michalski said. "Because of marijuana, he was able
to live his last days and die in relative comfort."
In recent weeks, Michalski has emerged as a frequent spokeswoman in
favor of a proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot in Montana that would make
the Big Sky state the 10th in the nation to legalize the use of
marijuana for medical purposes.
Two polls show Montana residents appear poised to defy the Bush
administration and approve the ballot initiative. Two other states,
Oregon and Alaska, will vote on measures to liberalize laws that
already permit the medicinal use of marijuana, but the outcomes in
both are less certain.
The Bush administration has dispatched top officials from the Office
of National Drug Control Policy to argue against the ballot proposals
in all three states, but they seem to have had little success in
Montana, a state with a strong "leave us alone" attitude toward Washington.
Surveys by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research and Montana State
University-Billings showed the Montana initiative winning, with 58
percent and 57 percent, respectively, in the polls.
"We're very hopeful," Bruce Mirken, communications director for the
Marijuana Policy Project, said of the outcome in Montana. The project
is pushing all three states' proposals.
The Montana initiative would allow patients who are terminally or
seriously ill to produce, possess and use marijuana under medical
supervision to relieve the symptoms of cancer, glaucoma, HIV-AIDS and
other conditions defined by the state. The state would issue
identification cards to those who qualify under the law.
Nine other states have approved marijuana measures. The latest was
Vermont, where state lawmakers voted in May to authorize patients with
HIV-AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis to possess limited amounts of
medicinal marijuana. The measure became law without the signature of
Gov. James H. Douglas, a Republican.
Since 1996, voters ha
ve authorized the medicinal use of marijuana in
seven states - Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and
Washington. In Hawaii, the legislature passed that state's measure,
which then-Gov. Ben Cayetano, a Democrat, signed into law. Connecticut
passed a law in 1981 making it legal for doctors to prescribe
marijuana for medicinal use, but a conflict with federal law makes the
state law unworkable, and at least four legislative efforts to resolve
that conflict have failed.
In Montana, both sides have been pressing their case in recent
Scott Burns, deputy director of the drug policy office, campaigned
across the state against Initiative 148.
At one stop, according to local press reports, he said, "If we make it
acceptable in society to smoke dope, our children are more inclined to
Tom Riley, communications director for the drug policy office, said
the administration had a mandate from Congress to uphold federal laws
against marijuana. Riley added that the Food and Drug Administration
has not approved the use of marijuana to relieve pain or for other
medical treatments. "We have an obligation to uphold sound science,"
Mirken, the marijuana policy project spokesman, responded that there
is "no doubt" that marijuana can relieve pain for some patients.
"Current policy is just crazy," Mirken said. Michalski said families
"shouldn't have to deal with the fear of criminal prosecution" during
difficult times, as she and her family did when her son was dying.
In the Other States:
Oregon voters will decide whether to create the nation's first
state-licensed marijuana dispensaries, which would sell marijuana to
patients on a state-operated registry.
The initiative also would increase the amount of marijuana those on
the registry could grow and possess. The Oregonian newspaper reported
that a poll found the initiative is losing by 52 percent to 34
percent, with 14 percent undecided.
Alaska voters will decide whether to remove all civil and criminal
penalties under state law for people 21 or older who grow, use or sell
marijuana for any reason. State and local government officials could
not require a license for personal use or cultivation of marijuana but
could regulate it like alcohol. Gov. Frank H. Murkowski opposes the
The three state votes will not be the final word on the medicinal use
of marijuana. On Nov. 29, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments
in a Bush administration challenge to California's law. The case
involves two women who smoke marijuana on the advice of a doctor and
say it is the only drug that eases their chronic pain and other