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New Politics of Pot

NCJ Number
Governing Volume: 12 Issue: 4 Dated: January 1999 Pages: 32-34
R Freyman
Date Published
3 pages
This article examines the political tactics used by Americans for Medical Rights to make it legally possible for certain patients to smoke marijuana for medical purposes.
Americans for Medical Rights -- a Santa Monica-based organization led by Bill Zimmerman, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience -- spearheaded the 1996 initiative to allow certain patients to smoke marijuana for health purposes in California and Arizona. Using his wealth of experience in managing political races, Zimmerman treated the medical marijuana issue as a political campaign. Americans for Medical Rights booked doctors on television and radio programs to discuss how those suffering from glaucoma, chemotherapy-related nausea or AIDS "wasting" syndrome can benefit from pot. They talked at length about research and cited a favorable editorial that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. Americans for Medical Rights is careful to use spokespersons who are mainstream professionals with an authoritative and persuasive knowledge of the medical effects of marijuana. Further, they have limited their campaign to the issue of using marijuana to relieve the suffering of people in physical pain. One of the goals of Americans for Medical Rights is to have the Drug Enforcement Administration change marijuana from a Schedule I substance (meaning it has no accepted medical use in the United States and is highly addictive) to Schedule III status (on a par with Tylenol with codeine). Although both the executive and legislative branches of the Federal Government have stoutly fought such efforts, Zimmerman is counting on votes in 2000 in Colorado, Maine, and Nevada (where State law requires voters to pass an initiative twice before it can be enacted) to further pressure the Federal Government and State legislatures. Referendums are also possible in Michigan, Ohio, and Massachusetts.