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 weeks. 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 measure. 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.