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The December 2, 1996 Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on California Proposition 215 and Arizona Proposition 200

by Rick Doblin, MAPS President


California's Proposition 215 passed with a vote of 56%. It legalizes the medical use of marijuana for all patients who have the recommendation or approval of their physician. Patients can now possess, grow and use marijuana and still be in compliance with State of California law. Though federal authorities have vowed to fight implementation of the law, several patients facing prosecution under California law have had their cases dropped, many patients have begun to grow marijuana, and new Cannabis Buyers Clubs have been established throughout the state. Dr. Donald Abrams (UCSF) and MAPS' fruitless four and half year effort to obtain federal permission to conduct medical marijuana research still requires, and is unable to obtain, federally-licensed marijuana. Marijuana grown under Prop. 215 cannot be used for this purpose.

Arizona's Proposition 200 passed with a vote of 64%. Among other provisions, it legalizes the medical use of marijuana and all other Schedule 1 drugs when prescribed by two physicians who comply with professional medical standards and document that scientific evidence exists that supports their decision to prescribe the drug. Proposition 200 also mandates treatment and probation instead of incarceration for most people convicted of drug use and possession. Furthermore, Proposition 200 redirects a small percentage of Arizona's current "luxury privilege" tax income to drug education programs designed primarily to "increase parental involvement in their children's drug education."

The extent to which Arizona's Proposition 200 will be challenged by federal authorities remains unknown. Though Arizona physicians can theoretically prescribe Schedule 1 drugs, there is no legal source for these drugs since the prescription drug system is under federal control. Proposition 200 will not make it any easier to conduct marijuana or psychedelic research in Arizona, since federal approval remains a prerequisite.


Five anti-initiative witnesses testified at the hearing; Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP); Tom Constantine, Administrator of the DEA; Brad Gates, Sheriff of Orange County; John Walters, former deputy director of the ONDCP, and Richard Romley, prosecuting attorney for Maricopa County (Phoenix). The lone pro-initiative spokesperson was Marvin Cohen, treasurer of Arizonans for Drug Policy Reform.

After Mr. Cohen testified, Sen. Hatch, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, held up the Autumn 1996 MAPS Newsletter and started to read out loud from the back cover the descriptions of the studies that MAPS is working to support. Sen. Hatch criticized Mr. Cohen and his associates for linking Proposition 200 only to the medical use of marijuana and ignoring its implications for psychedelics and other Schedule 1 drugs. Sen. Hatch may have intended to portray MAPS' research agenda as extreme but seemed to give it a second thought after he read that the LSD and peyote studies involved the treatment of substance abusers and alcoholics. After listing MAPS' research agenda, Sen. Hatch felt it important to mention that he wasn't saying that research shouldn't take place.

Sen. Hatch objected to the possibility that the initiative would permit any two "pothead doctors" who were "raised in the 60s, who use drugs themselves and who don't see anything wrong with it" to cite any research, whether it was scientifically valid or not, as armor to justify prescribing a Schedule 1 drug. He thought that it would be difficult to get a conviction in a court of law against irresponsible doctors since the initiative didn't require compelling scientific evidence. The proposition itself just says a doctor must document that "scientific evidence exists," Sen. Hatch noted. "What in the world does that mean? They could almost claim it out of this MAPS thing that they are doing scientific research. It doesn't say anything about a consensus of research, the quality of research or the validity of research or even the quantity of research. I mean this is ridiculous. I don't know how in the world the proponents of this can argue their case with a straight face."


MAPS' mission is to evaluate scientifically the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and marijuana. MAPS hopes eventually to provide sufficient evidence to the FDA to justify a decision to approve the legal prescription use of these drugs for certain indications.

Sen. Hatch expressed the fear that some physicians in Arizona may cite preliminary or scientifically flawed research to justify their irresponsible use of psychedelics. MAPS shares Sen. Hatch's goal of preventing the harmful use of psychedelics and marijuana. Fortunately, Proposition 200 explicitly requires that physicians comply with professional medical standards. This effectively provides legal grounds to curtail irresponsible use, should any occur.

MAPS urges the Senate Judiciary Committee to monitor the situation in Arizona to see if any physicians try to treat patients with psychedelics, which MAPS doubts will occur, or with marijuana, which may occur, and to determine if any patients are helped or harmed as a result. MAPS is worried that concerns about the irresponsible use of research studies could be used to justify the continued blockage of medical marijuana research and the halting of psychedelic research, which was permitted to resume in 1990 after decades of suppression. In addition to being un-American, the suppression of new research will not prevent the theoretical problem Sen. Hatch mentioned. The minimal standards required by Proposition 200 can already be met by research in the scientific literature (see MAPS' electronic bibliography of peer-reviewed scientific research related to the medical uses of psychedelics and marijuana located on the MAPS web page: MAPS takes the position that the best method of preventing irresponsible use is to conduct scientific research to prove or disprove the medical benefits of marijuana and psychedelics and to guide physicians and patients to the best therapies.

Another of Sen. Hatch's concerns seems to be that acknowledging that drugs such as marijuana and LSD can have medical uses will undermine drug abuse prevention education efforts aimed at young people. MAPS takes the position that effective drug abuse prevention education is not inconsistent with FDA acceptance of the medical use of marijuana and psychedelics. A section on drug abuse prevention education in the Winter 1996-97 MAPS Newsletter features an article by Joel H. Brown, Ph.D. which speaks directly to this issue.

MAPS' strategy remains to prioritize psychedelic research into the treatment of substance abuse, pain and distress in terminal cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. MAPS also continues to work to conduct marijuana research into the treatment of AIDS wasting syndrome. In response to Propositions 200 and 215, MAPS will increase its efforts to provide assistance to physicians willing to gather data in the context of protocols approved by the FDA. MAPS will also seek to prevent the irresponsible use of research findings.