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Medical Marijuana, Stem Cells Pass on Election Day

States Tackle Controversial Health Policies on Ballots
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WebMD Health News

Nov. 3, 2004 -- Tuesday's vote made Montana the 10th state to legalize medical marijuana and made California the first to mandate state-funded embryonic stem cell research.

Meanwhile, Alaskans rejected a move that would have fully legalized marijuana for adults and would have given the state the right to tax and regulate the drug.

Sixty-two percent of Montana voters backed a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana use by patients with cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS under the supervision of a doctor. The new law lets patients grow up to six plants for personal medical marijuana use and allows them to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis.

Paul Befumo, who headed the ballot initiative effort, says in an interview that voters and lawmakers in the mostly-Republican state responded to his group's decriminalization push.

"They kind of heard the message that it's not a good idea to put sick people in jail for using medical marijuana when doctors recommend it," says the investment advisor from Missoula, Mont.

The initiative campaign was bankrolled by the Marijuana Policy Project, a national pro-legalization group that has set itself at sharp odds with federal officials over drug policy. The group was also involved in the Alaskan legalization initiative, which failed 58% to 41%.

"When people realize what's at stake, they stand up against legalization," says Jennifer DeValance, a spokeswoman for the White House Office of National Drug Policy. As a result of two court cases, Alaskans already have the right to possess up to 4 ounces of marijuana in their homes, making it the most permissive state in the country.

In reaction to the Montana vote, DeValance warned that federal officials could choose to crack down on marijuana users that violate federal law. Drug officials have prosecuted marijuana growers in California and Oregon who were operating legally under state laws.

Medical marijuana initiatives also passed in Ann Arbor, Mich., and in Columbia, Mo., though an effort to expand possession limits and make cannabis available through state-controlled dispensaries failed in Oregon.

Big Issues in California

Another controversial health issue -- embryonic stem cell research -- reached ballots in California on Election Day, as 59% of voters there approved a move that forces the state to issue bonds funding $3 billion in stem cell studies.

The initiative was widely seen as a reaction to a 2001 decision in which President George Bush limited federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Californians also approved a ballot question that raises income taxes on residents making more than $1 million per year to fund an expansion of state-run mental health services. The 1% tax hike is expected to raise $1.8 billion for the services between now and 2007, according to an analysis provided by the California Secretary of State's office.

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