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Arizona Bill Delays Medical Marijuana Use

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Arizonans will have to wait for federal approval of marijuana prescriptions under a bill passed by the state Senate on Tuesday.

The Senate approved a measure that would delay enactment of the drug initiative voters approved last fall. It prevents doctors from prescribing marijuana and other drugs until the Food and Drug Administration gives the go-ahead.

Gov. Fife Symington has been pushing for the bill and plans to sign it, said Doug Cole, the governor’s spokesman.

In November, voters approved Proposition 200 by a 2-1 margin. The law allows people who are in debilitating pain or terminally ill to receive legal prescriptions for all “Schedule I” drugs. Besides marijuana, the Drug Enforcement Administration puts heroin, LSD and methamphetamine in that category.

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Backers of the bill say they have an obligation to protect the public.

“Our constitutional duty is to protect not only the will of the people but to protect the health, welfare and safety of the people of the state,” said state Sen. Marc Spitzer.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. John Kaites, said FDA approval should be required on the drugs covered under the law.

Critics say the bill is a slap in the face of voters.

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“It seems to me, we’re saying to the voters that you’re smart when you vote for us, but we don’t trust you when you vote on other important issues,” state Sen. Pete Rios said.

State Sen. Ruth Solomon said that by passing the bill, lawmakers were telling voters that Arizonans did not know what they were doing or that the Legislature simply did not approve what voters did.

“They expect us to do exactly what they told us to do,” she said. “I trust their judgment.”

Sam Vagenas, one of the chief backers of Proposition 200, said passage of the bill showed blatant disregard for the will of voters.

“There’s no doubt they’re gutting the will of the people. I think in 1998 voters will pay them back for their arrogance,” he said.

Vagenas said he and other Proposition 200 backers plan to sue the state when the bill becomes law.

Arizona and California passed initiatives last fall giving seriously ill patients the right to get prescriptions for marijuana.

In response, the Clinton administration said doctors who recommend marijuana use would face loss of their drug prescription authority, disqualification from Medicare and Medicaid and possibly prosecution.

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Last week, a federal judge in California barred the government from prosecuting doctors who prescribe marijuana.

In Washington, the Arizona vote was lauded by a spokesman for Barry McCaffrey, the White House national drug policy director.

“The Legislature of Arizona has taken a very responsible course of action, requiring FDA approval of any drug before it is declared to be medicine, as required by law,” said Bob Weiner, spokesman for the national drug policy office.


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