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California voters could legalize medical use of pot

October 14, 1996
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OAKLAND, California (CNN) -- Patients coping with cancer, AIDS and even glaucoma could get some relief from marijuana if California voters give their approval.

Proposition 215 -- on the November ballot -- would exempt doctors and patients from marijuana laws, allowing them to grow and use it in treatment. The proposition does not legalize marijuana.

What would it mean to those who would use it?

"It makes the difference of laying in bed all day vomiting and being an invalid, or getting up to where I could function," said Dixie Romagno, who has multiple sclerosis.


The issue grabbed headlines in August when the state attorney general ordered police to raid a so-called buyers club in San Francisco.

Despite the widely publicized bust, a few marijuana buyers clubs remain open in other cities. One in Oakland offers price lists and brand names.

Proposition 215 would not legalize buyers clubs, though it does ask the government to provide safe distribution of marijuana to patients.

Despite patient testimonials, marijuana has not passed rigorous scientific testing. Some doctors worry that giving it a legal loophole could undermine the current system for approving and assuring the quality of all medicines.


"They have to be what they say they are," said Dr. Hugh Vincent. "They have to do what they say they do. And if you can't do that, then the whole system of medicine starts becoming a little suspect and a little cultish."

The California Medical Association opposes Proposition 215. But the San Francisco Medical Society got an unexpected response from its members.

"Surprisingly, the information that came forth was that marijuana was being used effectively, and that the benefit far outweighed the risk," said Dr. Toni Brayer.


The main ingredient of marijuana is available legally in marinol pills, though treatment can cost thousands of dollars a month. Some patients claim it does not work as well as whole marijuana.

Without conclusive support from scientific studies, or approval from the Food and Drug Administration, supporters of Proposition 215 hope the pleas of individual patients will advance their campaign for the medical uses of marijuana.

Correspondent Andrew Holtz contributed to this report.

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