DRCNet Activist Guide 10/96

Prop. 215 Campaign Optimistic

By Dave Fratello, Communications Director,
Californians for Medical Rights

Prop. 215 -- Medical Marijuana

After Labor Day, the campaign season rolls into high gear. In California, that means that the campaign for Proposition 215, the Medical Marijuana Initiative, is beginning the race for the finish.

Supporters of Prop. 215 are confident that passage is a real possibility. With a solid majority of voters behind the initiative, and support from major statewide medical societies and senior citizens' organizations, Prop. 215's prospects improve each day.

Even a major news event with a negative tinge to it, the August 4 raid by state police on a San Francisco facility providing medical marijuana to over 10,000 seriously and terminally ill people, has worked to the general advantage of the campaign. The raid was roundly condemned by city officials and state legislators as a politically motivated action. Attorney General Dan Lungren, a co-chair of the 'No on 215' campaign and the official who ordered the raid, has been singled out for criticism for using his police powers to influence the election.

A lot can happen once the campaign gets serious, but the biggest challenge is faced by the `No on 215' committee, which goes by the name "Citizens for a Drug-Free California." The group is made up predominantly of law enforcement officials and organizations, with some anti-drug groups like the D.A.R.E. officers union and Drug Watch International also represented. Thus far, the 'No on 215' committee has not indicated that it has much money, the lifeblood of a statewide race in California.

To beat Prop. 215, the 'No on 215' effort probably will need to spend a couple of million dollars on TV advertising to confuse voters and turn them against the initiative, which otherwise enjoys nearly 2-to-1 support.

The 'No on 215' effort has already suffered a few embarrassing blows. On August 9, a Sacramento Superior Court judge ordered changes in the 'No on 215' argument for the state-sponsored voter handbook. The judge said that 'No on 215' had erroneously suggested that the American Cancer Society was against Prop. 215. He ordered those sections, which he called "misleading," altered, and other references to the cancer group's position on medical marijuana deleted entirely. A quote from the society that did remain in the so-called "ballot argument" was later revealed to be over 18 years old, meaning that 'No on 215' is using arguments from 1978 in a 1996 election.

Another 'No on 215' campaign effort to claim credit for an endorsement it did not have was also revealed in August. Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti was listed on the committee's initial coalition list, only to have Garcetti demand to be removed -- he supported the 1995 medical marijuana legislation that Prop. 215 is based on. The 'No on 215' forces could not explain the error.

On the flipside, the 'Yes on 215' campaign, led by Californians for Medical Rights (CMR), continues to gather steam. Managed by veteran political consultant Bill Zimmerman out of Santa Monica offices, CMR gathered nearly 600,000 of the 750,000 signatures used to quality Prop. 215 for the ballot. CMR also has offices in Sacramento and consultants around the state who bring top-flight expertise to endorsement-gathering, media strategy, fund raising, literature design and other campaign activities.

As of this writing, the key endorsements CMR has brought in are: the California Academy of Family Physicians (7,000 doctors), the San Francisco Medical Society (2,200 specialists), the Older Women's League of California and the California Legislative Council for Older Americans. These organizations demonstrate the wide appeal of Prop. 215 in the medical community and in a key, voting constituency -- senior citizens at high risk of cancer, glaucoma and other diseases for which marijuana can be a useful part of treatment.

CMR's lead proponent and spokesperson is Anna T. Boyce, a Registered Nurse living in Orange County. As an elected member of the California Senior Legislature, Ms. Boyce in 1992 authored a proposal to end criminal penalties for medical use of marijuana. When picked up by the California Legislature, the proposal began a three-year spate of pro-medical marijuana activity that attracted bipartisan support, but ran up against the governor's vetoes in 1994 and 1995 -- convincing proponents that an initiative was needed.

Ms. Boyce brings something else to the campaign: personal experience. While a nurse, Ms. Boyce had been several cases of patients who needed and successfully used marijuana in treatment for diseases like cancer. After she had become active on the issue, her husband, John Jacob Boyce, in 1995 got cancer. When the other medications could not control his nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, Anna gave him marijuana. Ms. Boyce says he regained his weight and, after a life at 185 pounds, he died at 185 pounds, a rarity among chemotherapy patients.

If passed by voters, Prop. 215 will simply create a legal defense for patients who use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation or approval. Prop. 215 will also exempt physicians from any professional or legal sanctions for recommending marijuana, a clause designed to remove the effective "gag rule" now stifling discussions of medical marijuana between patients and doctors. A strong showing by Prop. 215 could well lead to action in the California Legislature in 1997 -- and it will send a powerful message to the federal government, whose maneuverings and obstructionism have choked off medical research and access to marijuana.

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DRCNet Activist Guide 10/96

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