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Arizonans to Vote on Drug Decriminalization and Control Measure


October 1996

Proposition 200, the Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act has qualified for the November 5th ballot in Arizona. The initiative would: (1) Allow doctors to prescribe marijuana and other illegal drugs to "seriously ill and terminally ill patients"; (2) Create a state commission for anti-drug education programs; (3) Eliminate prison penalties in exchange for mandatory drug treatment and education for the first two convictions for personal-use drug offenses; (4) Require persons convicted of a violent crime while under the influence of drugs to serve 100% of their sentence, and (5) "Require that non-violent persons currently in prison for personal possession or use of illegal drugs ... be made eligible for immediate parole and drug treatment," except those "serving a concurrent sentence for another crime, or previously convicted."

John Norton, deputy secretary of agriculture under President Reagan, lead the petition drive to put the initiative on the ballot. The measure has been endorsed by Barry Goldwater, a longtime Republican U.S. Senator and 1964 GOP Presidential nominee, and Dennis DeConcini, retired U.S. Senator (D-AZ). Supporters, such as Sam Vagenas, a primary backer of the initiative, argue that it would make more law enforcement, judicial and prison resources available for violent criminal offenses ("Can Barry save the saguaros," Arizona Republic, July 12, 1996, p. B1).

U.S. Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ) said the measure ignores the nature of plea bargaining. He claims that the provision to release non-violent, personal-use drug offenders would allow drug dealers to go free. "If someone is in prison for drug use, the offense they committed was almost always a more serious offense or they had a history of prior drug offenses," Sam Vagenas, spokesman for Proposition 200, said the initiative gives the state Board of Executive Clemency discretion not to parole anyone who is a "danger to the general public." (The measure also excludes people with prior convictions from immediate parole eligibility. -- RCT)

Members of Arizona's Department of Health and Department of Corrections (DOC) contend that the initiative is being pushed by drug rehabilitation centers that might benefit from increased state funding. They claim it would remove the incentive for prosecutors to press charges against drug users, and would not make prison space available for more violent offenders, because the DOC does not mix nonviolent and violent offenders (Joe Hinton, "Experts on health, law wary of ballot measure on drugs," Bisbee Daily Review, October 6, 1996, p. A1).

For More Information, contact Arizonans for Drug Policy Reform, P.O. Box 34506, Phoenix, Arizona 85067 or Tel: John Norton @ (602) 941-6814