SACRAMENTO — The group that promoted California’s medical marijuana initiative in 1996 wants to set up a showdown with the federal government with a ballot measure that would set up a state-controlled network to distribute the drug to patients.
Santa Monica-based Americans for Medical Rights wants the initiative on the November 2002 ballot in Arizona, Oregon or Washington, three states that also have medical marijuana laws.
California has been ruled out because it would be too expensive to conduct a campaign there, said Bill Zimmerman, leader of the group.
The measure, which would formalize a state government-controlled network to distribute medical marijuana, would set up an almost certain U.S. Supreme Court battle over states’ rights.
Eight states including California have legalized marijuana for medical use, but the narcotic remains illegal for cultivation, sales and use of any sort under federal law.
In California, home of the nation’s first medical marijuana law, an uneasy detente had reigned between federal officials and cannabis clubs until a Supreme Court ruling in May rolled back provisions of Proposition 215 that addressed the distribution of the marijuana that patients use.
Recently federal agents have shut down a West Hollywood cannabis club endorsed by city officials, raided a Ventura County garden operated by patients and seized medical records from a prominent medical marijuana doctor in Northern California.
Sue North, chief of staff for state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, said the actions of federal officials are hurting patients who use marijuana to ease pain or to help with nausea caused by chemotherapy or AIDS.
“The target here isn’t dope dealers on the school grounds,” North said. “This is about stopping people with serious medical conditions from getting access to something that helps them.”
U.S. Justice Department officials did not respond to requests for comment, but DEA spokesman Richard Meyer said agents are required to enforce drug laws.
Americans for Medical Rights has pushed medical marijuana initiatives in several states over the last decade. It is financed largely by George Soros, a billionaire New York financier, and several other wealthy benefactors.