As political junkie, I have attended numerous public forums, City Council meetings, Pima County Board of Supervisers' meetings, and even Arizona Legislature sessions, but tonight's "educational" forum on medical marijuana (Prop 203) was the weirdest, most one-sided and contentious non-debate that I have ever witnessed.
In a nutshell, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall [check out the seriously under-the-radar website link] used this public forum (and a Pima County facility) to give her personal opinion on medical marijuana, scare the audience, and campaign for a No vote on Prop 203. (Isn't this unethical behavior?)
At the onset, LaWall said that the meeting was not a debate or a public forum but simply an educational meeting. She said her goal was to "educate and inform" the audience about Prop 203. Fair enough but that is not what transpired.
LaWall's slanted slide show, her "facts" about medical marijuana, and editorial emphasis on certain key points made it obvious that she was not providing education; she was using her office to campaign against medical marijuana.
Early on, in the non-debate, the mostly pro-203 audience of about 40 people began to challenge her "facts". For example, she said that marijuana was not approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a "medicine" and that it has not been research-tested. (Earth to Barbara, the FDA has not approved St. John's Wort for depression, black cohash for menopause, or any number of herbal remedies and supplements, but drug stores and health food stores are selling them.)
Marijuana has not been approved as a medicine because there are no pharmaceutical companies producing marijuana pills and funding multi-center clinical trials. Since it is illegal in most states, there is no economic incentive to pay millions of dollars to test it. (Drug research in the US is based on capitalism, not on the overall public good.) On the flip side, there have been loads research articles providing anecdotal evidence and case studies on the benefits of medical marijuana.
Regarding research testing of Controlled Substances, in the US most research is funded by the federal government or by drug companies. After the free-wheeling 1960s when Timothy Leary. Ram Das, Andrew Weil, and others at Harvard Medical School were conducting clinical trials of, writing about, and/or experimenting with mind-altering drugs, the Nixon administration clamped down on experimentation (research or otherwise), and medical research into potential benefits of controlled substances was suppressed. (Research funding is a political football.)
I digress. Back to tonight's political theater... instead of answering questions from the audience, LaWall became defensive, skipped through some slides, threatened to have people removed, and solicited help from uniformed police officers to control the crowd of citizens with legitimate questions. Since LaWall refused to call on people who raised their hands early on, audience members started shouting questions and comments.
For example, she answered one of my questions, but only when I said I was a journalist and asked, "Do you want me to write that you refused to answer audience questions?" When I raised my hand with a follow-up question, I was ignored-- along with many others.
Eventually the audience turned to heckling, but, seriously, LaWall deserved it. One breast cancer patient shouted out how much medical marijuana has helped her over the past 2 years of chemothearpy. Community activists accused LaWall of abusing her elected office by using the public forum to voice her personal opinion. Outside, a cancer doctor and palliative care cancer nurse told me that LaWall just doesn't understand the benefits of medical marijuana to their patients.
The meeting lasted about 30-40 minutes, since LaWall refused to answer the vast majority of questions or address comments from the audience. This was a pathetic performance by an elected official.
On November 2, 2010, Arizona voters will again have the opportunity to approve medical marijuana (Prop 203). Arizonans have approved medical marijuana at least twice before in my recollection. What makes the 2010 vote different? In 1998, Arizona voters got tired of voting for initiatives and then having the Republican-controlled Legislature not enact the voters' wishes. Consequently, the Voter Protection Act was passed. This forces the Legislature to enact laws approved by the voters. (Watch out for this because Republican legislators are trying to undermine our initiative process.)
Old hippies, stoners, cancer patients, people with chronic pain and other medical conditions improved by marijuana, and other freedom-loving Americans who want less government control of our lives-- mark your calendars. I'll make it easy for you. Here are the election-related deadlines you need to know:
- To vote on November 2, you must register by October 4, 2010. You can register to vote here.
- The first day of early voting and the day that early ballots are mailed is October 7, 2010.
- You can also request to be on the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL). This means you automatically always get a ballot in the mail. (You can change this at any time; you can also drop the ballot off at a polling place on election day. It's easy, trust me.)
- The last day to request an early ballot is October 22, 2010. Here is a list of early voting sites.
- Election day is November 2, 2010. If you don't know where to vote, check out the Pima County Recorder's website. And, again, thanks to Republicans, you have to take an official government identification with you to the polls.
Also, while you're voting for medical marijuana, vote for Arizona Democrats. Statistics show that most people don't like the way the Republicans are running this state (ie, 2nd in poverty, 50th in education, worst unemployment in 27 years). It is long past time to throw those bums out!
In the future, looks for public forums on zoning for medical marijuana. Counties and cities around Arizona will be trying to control usage, dispensaries, and cultivation. Don't let them undermine your rights!