NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Medical Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for November 5 Ballot in California, Court Says Opponents Were "Misleading"


September 1996

The California Compassionate Use Initiative, which would decriminalize marijuana for some medical uses, qualified in April for the November 5 ballot in California (George Raine, "Push to put pot on the ballot," San Francisco Examiner, May 28, 1996, p. A1; "Medical Marijuana Initiative Certified," Ventura County & Coast Reporter, June 13, 1996, p. 7; Associated Press, "Medical Marijuana Use Sparks Legalization Battle," San Francisco Chronicle, July 4, 1996; "Californians to Vote on Medical Marijuana," California NORML Reports, July, 1996, p.1).

The Secretary of State in California confirmed that the initiative, known as Proposition 215, qualified with more than 775,000 voters' signatures, well above the 433,269 signatures needed. Proposition 215 is based on a bill (AB 1529) sponsored in 1995 by California Assemblyman John Vasconcellos. The bill passed the legislature with bipartisan support, but was vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson. Passage of Proposition 215 would overrule Governor Wilson's veto.

If passed, Proposition 215 will permit physicians to openly recommend marijuana for medical use and will protect patients with a physician's recommendation from criminal charges for marijuana possession or cultivation. The initiative does not affect the federal ban on medicinal marijuana or California laws against recreational marijuana use. Patients who qualify are prohibited from operating heavy machinery or endangering others while using marijuana.

Advocates, such as Californians for Medical Rights, claim that studies and evidence from patients show that marijuana: (1) reduces the nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy, (2) reduces internal eye pressure that progressively leads to blindness in glaucoma, (3) increases the appetite for AIDS patients suffering from the "wasting syndrome," and (4) reduces muscle spasms for people with epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Last year, two Harvard professors, psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon and lawyer James Bakalar, recommended medicinal marijuana in a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (A copy is available from the NewsBriefs office.) The measure has been endorsed by the California Nursing Association, the California Academy of Family Physicians, the Orange County Register, and the Chicago (IL) Tribune (Lester Grinspoon, MD and James B. Bakalar, JD, "Marijuana as Medicine, A Plea for Reconsideration," Journal of the American Medical Association, June 21, 1995, p. 1875; David Tuller, "Medical use debate again in forefront," San Francisco Chronicle, August 6, 1996, p. A13).

Opponents, including the California Narcotics Officers Association, say that medical marijuana is a hoax because no scientific evidence exists to support the medicinal aspects of the drug. Furthermore, opponents claim that the measure is a stealth approach to the further legalization of marijuana and other illicit drugs. Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates formed the Citizens for a Drug-Free California this summer to combat Proposition 215. Other opponents of the measure include the California District Attorneys Association, the Police Chiefs Association, and the California DARE Officers Association.

Gates argues that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is already available to people in the form of Marinolr, a prescription drug. In a statement issued on July 3, Vasconcellos replied that Marinolr is more expensive than marijuana, frequently has severe side effects, and is difficult to swallow if the patient is suffering from nausea.

On August 9, Sacramento Superior Court Judge William Ridgeway called part of the "No on 215" campaign "misleading" and ordered changes. The American Cancer Society (ACS) had petitioned the court to have two references to ACS dropped or changed before August 12, the date of publication for the November 5 Ballot Pamphlet. The pamphlet is distributed by the Secretary of State. Judge Ridgeway ordered the "No on 215" campaign to alter the two references that portrayed the ACS as opponents of Proposition 215. George Waters, an ACS attorney, says the ACS is neutral to the proposition ("Judge Orders Changes in "Misleading" 'No on 215' Ballot Argument," press release from the Californians for Medical Rights, August 9, 1996).

FOR MORE INFORMATION, Contact: Californians for Medical Rights - 1250 6th Street, Suite 202 Santa Monica, CA 90401, Tel: (310) 394-2952, Fax: (310) 451-7494, E-mail: or Citizens for a Drug-Free California - 4041 MacArthur Blvd. Suite 190, Newport Beach, CA 92660, Tel: (714) 476-3017, Fax: (714) 851-9053