Advocates of the proposal, which will be listed as Question 2 on the Nov. 2 ballot, say by authorizing marijuana for specific medical conditions the proposed law would protect patients who are advised by a doctor they might benefit from the drug.
"We shouldn't be driving very sick people into illegal situations," says retired veterinarian Mike Lindey, 67, of Freeport, who as part of the campaign for passage of the initiative has taken to the Internet to describe his own use of marijuana during chemotherapy several years ago.
Since 1996, five states-- California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Arizona have passed medical marijuana initiatives. Voters in the District of Columbia also registered approval.
Canada recently granted 14 people with serious illnesses permission to use marijuana for medical reasons.
The health department sifted through 100 applications, selecting 14. No applications have been rejected outright, and there may be more exemptions granted, officials said.
The Canadian government first gave permission for the cultivation and use of marijuana for medical purposes in June, when Health Minister Allan Rock granted special exemptions from federal drug law to two people who have AIDS.
Some of the people who applied to use marijuana said they're too sick to grow the plants. The government, in turn, has said it will invite bids from firms to cultivate the plant.
"One of our goals is also to get a Canadian source of supply for medical purposes so that problem doesn't arise," said Rock.
"As you know, we're new to this line of work, so we're doing the best we can to cope."
People wishing to apply for permission to use marijuana must have a doctor's approval. Those with illnesses such as cancer and AIDS say marijuana helps relieve pain and stimulate their appetite.
Despite the shift on medical usage of marijuana, Canadian laws against the drug remain in force and are applied, resulting in many convictions every year.
Earlier this month, Maine Gov. Angus King said enactment of the medical marijuana initiative would put Maine on a "slippery slope.".
He noted the conflict between the proposal and federal law and suggested that for some proponents, the initiative would be "a first step toward the ultimate legalization of marijuana."
The U.S. Justice Department has argued that no claim of necessity can justify use of a drug that is classified by Congress to be a dangerous substance with no approved medical purpose.
As a Schedule I substance, marijuana is illegal to cultivate, possess or use under U.S. federal law.