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Hearing Scheduled on MMJ Ballot Explanation

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Sioux Falls, S.D. - A circuit judge has ordered a hearing next week on whether the wording of a ballot measure seeking to legalize medicinal marijuana should be more objective and neutral.
The case against Attorney General Larry Long and Secretary of State Chris Nelson was filed by a woman who said she smokes marijuana to ease symptoms of her exposure to nerve gas while serving as a U.S. Army medic in Iraq.
Ron Volesky, a Huron lawyer acting as Valerie Hannah's local counsel, said Long exceeded his authority by stating that possession of marijuana is a federal crime.
Volesky said the attorney general should state only what effect a measure would have on state law.
"We think to include that in is inflammatory," he said. "That's a fact, not an effect."
Long has said that even if voters approve the measure, it's still going to be a crime under federal law to possess or use marijuana.
The medicinal marijuana measure was approved for the Nov. 7 ballot after supporters gathered more than the required 16,728 valid signatures.
Under the proposal, marijuana could be used for medical purposes if patients and their doctors agree that the benefits outweigh the risks. Supporters contend marijuana helps those with diseases such as cancer and AIDS, and people suffering from chronic pain, nausea or seizures.
The ballot explanation reads that even if the measure is passed, those who possess, use or distribute marijuana for medical reasons still can be prosecuted by federal authorities.
The warning adds that doctors may be subject to losing their federal licenses to prescribe legal drugs if they certify that people with debilitating health problems would benefit from marijuana use.
"We think that's beyond the scope of his authority," Volesky said.
Hannah, who said exposure to the nerve gas sarin forced her to retire from the military after 10 years, filed the lawsuit seeking to toss out Long's explanation of the ballot measure because it would hamper chances of passage.
The Deerfield woman contends people with health problems who would be helped by smoking marijuana should not be forced to get it illegally.
California voters in 1996 made it the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana. Voters in 10 other states have since enacted laws that allow dispensing pot to treat specific medical problems, although the federal government continues to outlaw marijuana.
Montana voters legalized medical marijuana in 2004, and Hannah has said the South Dakota ballot proposal is patterned after that law.
The hearing is scheduled for Aug. 18, before Circuit Judge Max Gors in Pierre.
Complete Title: Hearing Scheduled on Medical Marijuana Ballot Explanation
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Author: Dirk Lammers, Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, August 9, 2006
 

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