By Alfa · Oct 24, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    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
    do that."

    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,"
    he said.

    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
    medical problems.

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