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Kavanagh plants seed for medical marijuana re-vote

A lawmaker wants to have another statewide vote on whether Arizonans really want medical marijuana.

“No law should last forever, and if new facts come up, all laws should be reevaluated,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. “There’s good cause to believe the support no longer exists and people should be able to express that.”

Kavanagh has introduced a resolution that would create a 2014 referendum on whether to rescind the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which passed by 4,000 votes in 2010.

He said the measure stems from an Arizona Department of Health Services breakdown of medical marijuana cardholders that showed nearly 90 percent of the 34,000 Arizonans in the program cited severe and chronic pain. Less than 5 percent attributed their uses of medical marijuana to ease cancer and glaucoma symptoms.

Kavanagh said “vague, ill-defined, impossible-to-disprove” complaints of chronic pain suggest abuse.

“This is what critics feared: that it would be abused by people saying they had a bad back, and that’s apparently what we’ve gotten,” he said.

Kavanagh also pointed to a report by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission saying some youths reported obtaining marijuana from cardholders.

Some supporters of medical marijuana said critics are failing to acknowledge another finding in that report: Overall marijuana use in Arizona has decreased since the program has been in place.

Sunny Singh, the owner of weGrow, a company that sells supplies to cultivators and certifies patients, said Kavanagh’s legislation would jeopardize businesses and people statewide who spent a lot of money to get into the industry.

He said the program and his business have filled a much-needed void in the state.

“Everyone’s going to think of the stereotypical person who uses marijuana – you know, the dreadlocks and the reggae music,” he said. “We see a lot of patients, people who really use it as a medicine, people who are tired of taking painkillers and other pills that just do more damage to the body.”

Morgan Fox, communications manager for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said those who prefer medical marijuana should be helped and not forced to take addictive painkillers.

“All those patients would be forced to go without medicine or risk arrest, along with other problems,” he said.

Three-quarters of money raised in support of Proposition 203, which created the law, came from the Marijuana Policy Project.

“The people of Arizona have spoken in regards to this issue,” Fox said. “It is irresponsible and a waste of time for others to try to interfere with that and assume the voters didn’t know what they were doing.”

Still, the program has garnered little support from Arizona leaders. Five county sheriffs, 11 county attorneys and both U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., opposed Proposition 203.

Kavanagh said the 2010 vote margin shows that his proposal has a good chance of passing if it makes the ballot.

“I just need a little over 2,000 people to change their minds because the margin was so slim,” Kavanagh said. “If that few people change their minds, the program goes away.”

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Laura Monte/Cronkite News Service

A scale holding marijuana at weGrow.

Cardholder conditions

  • Cancer: 1,266 (3.76 percent)
  • Hepatitis C: 1,266 (3.76 percent)
  • Cachexia: 310 (0.92 percent)
  • Seizures: 614 (1.83 percent)
  • Glaucoma: 515 (1.53 percent)
  • Sclerosis: 24 (0.07 percent)
  • Alzheimer’s: 25 (0.07 percent)
  • Chronic Pain: 30,203 (89.8 percent)
  • Muscle Spasms: 4,304 (12.8 percent)
  • HIV/AIDS: 358 (1.06 percent)
  • Crohn’s Disease: 358 (1.06 percent)
  • Nausea: 2,525 (7.51 percent)

Arizona Department of Health Services