Medical marijuana in Arizona a sign of political diversity
The approval of Proposition 203 — the ballot item legalizing medical marijuana — by Arizona’s voters is nothing short of shocking. It’s another surprise from a state that is proving to the rest of the nation that it, if anything else, is chock-full of political surprises.
And while the controversial (and nationally popular) SB1070 legislation made Arizona the darling of conservative thought and values, Prop. 203 sends a completely different message. For in any other traditional red state, the proposition would have been crushed, carrying both connotations and actual implications too radical for many conservatives.
Gradually, the rest of America is learning something we’ve all known about Arizona for some time: We pursue our own course of action, and our political diversity does not lend itself to a seeing things in only white and black — or red and blue.
It would have been easy for the writers and the proponents of Prop. 203 to have copied a successful formula. Three of our neighboring states — California, Colorado and Nevada — have legalized medical marijuana, and plagiarizing their battle-tested legislation should have been a temptation. Instead, the men and women behind 203 took the best parts of medical marijuana laws across the nation and created a proposition built for the unique situations Arizona faces.
A major pitfall Prop. 203 avoids is the acceptance of “pseudo-medical” persons as medical authorities. This means homeopathic doctors and other “alternative medicine” gurus cannot sign off on marijuana prescriptions. This is an example of Arizona learning from the mistakes within California’s preceding law.
That is not to say Prop. 203 is without flaws. Arizona’s creation is obviously imperfect, and it certainly did not attract the possibility of a consensus — if not for a mere 5,000 voters, the state electorate would have rejected it.
One noticeable problem is Arizona’s lack of built dispensaries. Under the letter of the law, any citizen with a prescription for medical cannabis who is not within 25 miles of a dispensary is authorized to supply themselves with marijuana by growing it on their property. The demand for new dispensaries will plummet once people receive the go-ahead to grow their own medicine, which will further allow people to produce their own supply. This clause of the proposition will make it much more difficult to regulate who is legally receiving marijuana as part of a medical treatment plan.
Another issue is the inability for law enforcement officers to accurately assess whether drivers found with THC —the chemical found in marijuana — in their system have been driving under the influence of marijuana. Because THC does not leave the body with the quickness of alcohol, more defined guidelines for the legal limits of THC — measured by the amount in a person’s blood — need to be established by a state statute, much as laws regarding blood-alcohol content do.
It is clear Prop. 203 needs a bit more refining, regulations and review. For now, that job will be left to the Arizona Health and Human Services Department, who is tasked with turning the ballot measure into practical, workable policy. The state legislature may also have a turn at making slight changes — so long as they do not violate the will of the voters.
As citizens of the state, we can only hope the end result is something that responsibly provides medical marijuana to those who need it while not placing a greater burden on law enforcement to distinguish between legal and illegal supplies of cannabis.
But in the end, this decision signals more than a growing nationwide acceptance of marijuana as medicine. This decision is a reminder that Arizona — and all the people who inhabit it, from Yuma to Page — is not a book to be judged by its cover alone. Much to the ire of national news media that see everything in black and white terms (actually, red and blue terms), this state has a political diversity and independent approach that is nothing new. It has always defined Arizonans and connected them to their state and its history.
After all, this is the only state in the Union where your medical marijuana card can be used as proof of citizenship. Welcome to the great state of Arizona — sweet land of unpredictability.