clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Anti-marijuana cry is mostly muted

As Washington state voters prepare to decide whether marijuana should be legalized for medical use, those who decried such measures a year ago have been noticeably quiet.

Last fall, police, prosecutors and anti-drug forces that included White House drug policy chief Gen. Barry McCaffrey ran commercials and spoke out against medical marijuana ballot questions in Arizona and California.The initiatives - which both passed by wide margins - removed penalties for possessing the drugs as long as they had been prescribed by doctors.

With Washington voters preparing to vote on the same issue Nov. 4, the picture is different. No visits from McCaffrey, no lavish TV commercials, no threats from Attorney General Janet Reno to go after doctors.

"I think McCaffrey has more or less been muzzled," said Betty Sembler, an anti-drug advocate from St. Petersburg, Fla., suggesting that the success of last year's initiatives prompted opponents to tone down their tactics.

Apparently striking a compassionate chord with voters, the California initiative eased restrictions on marijuana, while the one in Arizona also included heroin, LSD and methamphetamines. But without the flurry of public polling and rallies of last year, it's difficult to gauge the feeling of Washington voters.

"This is a political statement that says, basically, if any drug has medical benefit, it should be safely available for patients to use," said Dr. Rob Killian, a Tacoma physician. "When you know there are some options available but you can't use them, it's very frustrating."

Killian sponsored the initiative after seeing cancer patients, wracked with nausea from chemotherapy, find relief from smoking marijuana. Medical experts are divided on the benefits of marijuana, though a National Institutes of Health report this summer concluded there is strong evidence that the drug can help treat severe weight loss, nausea and glaucoma.

All has not been smooth for the new laws.

Arizona lawmakers gutted the measure this spring, requiring federal approval before doctors can prescribe illegal drugs. California prosecutors have asked a state appeals court to ban cannabis clubs, though police have been told to lay off of people with a small amount of marijuana who have a doctor's prescription.