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Adult-use marijuana a failed policy, vote no on Prop 207

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Our children, teens and young adults have so many challenges today. If you care about their futures, please vote No on Proposition 207.

The most common argument used in favor of legalization is the belief it will bring in tax revenue, but it always comes in much lower than promised to voters. During Colorado’s recent teacher’s strike, so many residents asked, ‘what happened to the marijuana money going to schools?’ In all states with adult-use marijuana, tax revenues from marijuana fall far below projections and account for less than one percent of revenue.

Once a state introduces recreational marijuana, loopholes allow consumers to get medical marijuana cards and buy at a lower tax rate.  Furthermore, legalization doesn’t get rid of black markets, which grow more robust after legalization. It’s estimated that 80 percent of the California’s marijuana is black market, a reason that California is only getting approximately 40 percent of the tax revenue promised to voters on the ballot four years ago.

In the states with commercialized marijuana stores, the teens who use it manage to get ahold of the most potent varieties available. In Colorado last year, 52% of teen marijuana users were using “dabs,” which contain 40-90% THC, and one third of them were vaping THC.

The marijuana industry, like Big Tobacco, obfuscates and thwarts all sensible regulation such as caps on THC levels. In Colorado and Washington, the public and legislators tried to require caps on THC, the most psychoactive component of the drug. Both attempts failed, because the industry makes greater profits out of high-potency products such as concentrates and edibles. Today’s marijuana has at least 10 times more THC than “Woodstock weed.”

Julie Schauer
Julie Schauer

Adolescent pot use greatly increases the risk for long-term mental health issues. Most teens don’t know of the risk when they start, and many of them falsely think it’s safer than alcohol. Children with existing disadvantages, such as poverty, minority status, learning disabilities or a high amount of trauma, referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences, are harmed the most by early onset marijuana use.

Many people who support legalization do so for social justice reasons, thinking that drug is illegal in order to maintain systemic racism. Social justice advocates — who have legitimate concerns – may be disappointed to find that legalization has not fulfilled the social and racial justice outcomes that were promised by legalization. Discrepancies in the arrest rates of white, black and brown continue after legalization and in some cases grew.

Dispensaries are overwhelmingly owned by whites. Legalization unfairly causes more harm in minority and low income neighborhoods.  One Hispanic neighborhood in Denver has a dispensary for every 47 residents.  We argue that social justice is a reason not to legalize marijuana.

States with commercial marijuana, both medical and recreational, allow types of advertising such as billboards, which are completely banned for all tobacco products.

Data on traffic fatalities in Washington, the second state to open marijuana stores, shows that bicyclists and pedestrians were 6 times more likely to be killed by a marijuana positive driver than an alcohol-impaired driver. The percentage of traffic fatalities caused by marijuana impairment doubled in Washington after legalization.

Many of us parents against legalization don’t judge those who use marijuana, but we object to the advertising, the promotion of it and calling it harmless. Of course our addiction epidemic and rate of overdose deaths will not improve at the same time we’re legalizing pot.  A recent study showed that “Early initiation of marijuana is a dominant predictor of Opioid Use Disorder.”

Those who care about the drug epidemic, as it relates to adolescents and adolescent marijuana use, should follow Parent Movement 2.0 and Smart Colorado, as well as our website, PopPot.org. Our alliance will soon form another campaign, Every Brain Matters.

Only a few players, mainly large corporations, even some with investments from Big Tobacco, benefit from the commercialization of marijuana. By all other measures, it’s failed policy.

Julie Schauer serves as Vice President of Parents Opposed to Pot, a nationwide non-profit aimed at preventing youth marijuana use by educating the parents.

Arizona Supreme Court: Bad friends, bad neighborhood don’t make for good search

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Simply being around suspicious activity is not grounds for police to search a person, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The justices overturned a Phoenix man’s drug conviction on the grounds Phoenix police officers gave officers no reason to suspect he was a threat.

The court did acknowledge Anthony Primous was in a “dangerous” neighborhood, which was cited as a justification to frisk him. But Primous himself gave no indication that he was “involved in a crime or posed an imminent threat to the officers.”

Kathy Brody, ACLU of Arizona
Kathy Brody

“You have to look at the person, not just the surrounding circumstances,” said Kathy Brody, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which filed an amicus brief in the case.

She said the court’s ruling “clearly rejects the idea of guilty by association.”

“If you allow police to search based on the fact that people are in a bad neighborhood, that is just going to result in over-policing,” Brody said. “Basically, it’s an endless cycle where you’re saying, ‘Oh, these people are in this bad neighborhood, so we should search them.’ And therefore, the idea that it’s a bad neighborhood because you might find drugs on them just perpetuates itself.”

In Primous’ case, Brody had said the state Supreme Court should “categorically exclude the dangerousness of the surroundings from an officer’s calculus” unless under specific circumstances. Brody’s argument, according to the court’s ruling, was “on the ground that such factors are a proxy for race.”

The court declined to go that far, but Brody said Tuesday’s ruling leaves neighborhood characteristics open for future discussion.

If a pattern of policing based on location exists, she said, that’s a problem the ACLU will continue to look into.

“Neighborhood profiling gets awfully close to racial profiling,” she said. “Neighborhood profiling is a little bit different, but we believe allowing the police to justify searches or other policing activity just because someone is in a bad neighborhood – that is unconstitutional. And the court did agree with us on that.”

In February 2012, Phoenix police officers searching for a suspect in a high-crime neighborhood came upon four men, none of whom were the suspect. Among them was Primous, seated with an infant on his lap. As the officers made conversation, one of the men took off running and left the other men behind.

Primous stayed seated with the child on his lap. The court’s ruling, written by Justice Clint Bolick, noted he at no point  appeared “nervous or to have a weapon.” The other men had not moved either, yet the officers who remained with them frisked each of the three for weapons.

None were found, but a baggie of marijuana was taken from Primous’ pocket. He was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession, and after a failed attempt to suppress the marijuana as evidence obtained during an unlawful search, he was convicted and sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling overturns that conviction, concluding the Maricopa County Superior Court and the Court of Appeals were wrong to deny Primous’ motion to throw out the evidence against him.

“He did not react in a suspicious manner to the police encounter or when one of the other men ran away,” Bolick wrote. “He was cooperative. In sum, Primous gave the police no justification to search him.”

The trial court noted five factors to suggest officers had reason to suspect “crime was afoot,” namely the man who ran and the dangerousness of the surrounding area.

But the Supreme Court justices countered that court’s reasoning. Of the factors relied upon by the trial court and the Court of Appeals, “Primous had control over none of them.”

Bolick wrote the question of whether the officers were justified in searching Primous did not depend on “anything he did or said but because someone else with whom he was conversing fled when police approached, while Primous remained seated and cooperative.”

The justices also disagreed with prosecutors’ “unpersuasive” arguments that the marijuana should still be used against Primous even if it was seized unlawfully.

Suppressing the illegally seized evidence ensures that frisks are based on legitimate factors, Bolick wrote, and “do not devolve into a de facto policy of frisking all individuals with whom police have investigative encounters in high-crime neighborhoods.”

Brody acknowledged that such rules could make policing more difficult, but “that’s the balance our Constitution strikes.”

 

Article minimizes marijuana’s link to child deaths

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk

In his article “Facts show Polk’s claim about marijuana deaths among children is misleading,” (June 22 online and June 26 in print), Ben Giles falls head over heels trying to minimize the Arizona Fatality Report that links marijuana use to 62 child deaths in Arizona in 2013. This is eerily reminiscent of the Big Tobacco lobby in the 1980s and 1990s which kept trying to tell us “associated” health risks were not the same as “directly caused” problems with tobacco.

Here it is, straight from the report: “In 2013, marijuana was the most commonly used substance associated with a child’s death in Arizona.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that. We simply cannot fathom why anyone concerned with public health would want to minimize this point. If this were any drug other than marijuana, Mr. Giles and others would join the growing group of concerned folks who see that marijuana is a harmful, addictive drug.

But unfortunately, those who are in favor of marijuana legalization immediately go on the attack when a new journal article or scientific study is released that does not support their own agenda. They attack because they are afraid that if the truth about marijuana is known, more people would come to the conclusion that legalization is bad for our kids, their futures, and our communities.

Let us be clear: When the marijuana lobby tells people marijuana is safer than alcohol, it is they who are raising the health risks associated with alcohol. We agree with them that alcohol is dangerous. But the same report that shows alcohol is associated with child fatalities in Arizona also makes the same point, with the same language, about marijuana—and finds marijuana was involved in more child fatalities in 2013 than alcohol. Why does the marijuana lobby get to speak of alcohol’s related and associated health risks but we — who have a long record in substance abuse prevention — cannot speak also of marijuana’s health risks?

Mr. Giles also dismisses the 16 percent increase in Arizona’s high school students as just a “few teens” who will likely try marijuana if it is legal. In fact, 16 percent means 32,000 of our students who have never tried marijuana would be more likely to try it if legal. Another 76,000 who have tried it will be more likely to use it. The point is clear to anyone who has studied the trend in other states, as we have in Colorado. Legality begets more availability and more availability begets more use.

To read Mr. Giles’ and the marijuana lobby’s position, one would think they have found the first product ever whose legalization was sought in order not to maximize sales and consumption. Still, Mr. Giles and others keep stating the marijuana legalization effort is aimed at legalizing the product for adults, not children. Let us remind: Alcohol is also only permitted for adult use, but somehow over 24 percent of Arizona’s teens consume it regularly. Nationally, the rate of regular alcohol use by 16 and 17 year-olds is about the same. Why? Because it is legal and available. If we want marijuana to look like alcohol we should very much be prepared to see our teen population using more marijuana if it is legalized — just like alcohol.

Here’s the bottom line:  For Arizona to legalize recreational and retail marijuana is to upend decades and decades of concerted efforts to curb substance abuse and addiction in our health care community, our education community, our law enforcement community, our social work community, and practically everywhere else. If we are going to engage in such a radical change of all those years of work by all those institutions, the side that wants us to experiment like this with our children owes us a lot more information, such as the true costs as well as the true revenue. They are simply not providing it; it’s all guesswork. It’s all guesswork by them on behalf of a radical change.

At the end of the day, every Arizonan should be haunted by the recent quote on “60 Minutes” from Andrew Freedman, the Colorado director of marijuana policy coordination. “I do worry about if we are irreparably harming Colorado—and it will take years to suss out.”

Who, in their right mind, would want that worry in Arizona?

—   Seth Leibsohn is chairman of www.arizonansforresponsibledrugpolicy.org. Sheila Polk is vice chair and  Shawnna Bolick, Merilee Fowler and Sally Schindel are board members.

Bill to restrict marijuana advertising dies in Senate

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State lawmakers refused Monday to place restrictions on advertising marijuana that don’t exist for liquor and, to a great extent, for tobacco products.

HB 2809 sought an absolute ban on billboards advertising the product, now legal for adult use since approval of Proposition 207, within 1,000 feet if in the line of sight of any child care center, church, public park or public or private school. And any billboard already up would have to come down within 30 days of the law taking effect.

But what upset several Democratic lawmakers was a proposed outright ban on marijuana retailers sponsoring any athletic, musical, artistic or “other social or cultural event.” Also forbidden would have been underwriting or sponsoring any entry fee or team in any event.

Put simply, it was designed to hide the visibility of one legal drug — in this case, marijuana — while allowing wholesale promotion of another, notably alcohol.

It did not escape foes that this came as people can attend rock concerts sponsored by Miller Light and Busch is the official beer of NASCAR.

The legislation cleared the House in February with only two dissenting votes. And on Monday, Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said she agrees.

“The school teacher in me absolutely has to vote ‘yes,’ ” she told colleagues. “We need to protect our kids.”

Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said the teacher in her agrees.

“However, the business woman in me also feels that it’s very unfair of this legislature to pick winner and losers,” she said.

Otondo said she has no problem with requirements for signage and labeling, such as warning that the drug should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and making it clear that anyone younger than 21 cannot purchase marijuana.

“We all want to protect our children,” she said. “But the minute we begin to say an industry cannot do sponsorships then we are picking winners and losers.”

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, had her own problems with the verbiage.

She said the language against selling marijuana to anyone who is “obviously intoxicated” could end up discriminating against those with disabilities.

And there’s something else.

HB 2190 would have made it illegal to actually show a picture of a marijuana leaf or bud.

“That’s regulating commercial speech,” Engel said. “And I’m not sure I see the rational relationship between the purposes of this bill and that kind of restriction.”

The measure actually got 18 votes in support.

But the Arizona Constitution says that anything approved by voters, as was recreational use of marijuana last year, can be amended only if it furthers the purpose of the original law — and only with a three-fourths vote. So it would have needed 23 votes in the 30-member Senate.

 

Business group asks Congress for protection for marijuana

Blythe Huestis, dispensary manager for Natural Selections in Cave Creek, Ariz., looks through products on the counter. The dispensary carries a variety of marijuana products, from bud to edibles. (Sean Logan/News21)
Blythe Huestis, dispensary manager for Natural Selections in Cave Creek, Ariz., looks through products on the counter. The dispensary carries a variety of marijuana products, from bud to edibles. (Sean Logan/News21)

A group representing marijuana business owners in the West is urging Congress to include language in a government spending bill that would protect pot operations.

The Western Regional Cannabis Business Association said January 16 it is asking for legislative protection after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ signaled a tougher approach to federal pot enforcement. Earlier this month Sessions said he was ending an Obama-era policy that kept federal authorities from cracking down on the pot trade in states where the drug is legal.

The marijuana business group wants lawmakers to include language in an appropriations bill that would prohibit the Justice Department from spending money to thwart marijuana businesses in states where it is legal. The Western Regional Cannabis Business Association represents marijuana businesses in Washington state, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, Montana and Arizona.

Campaign launches to oppose recreational marijuana ballot measure

The ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana has an opposition campaign, but the advocates trying to legalize it say their opposition made a rookie mistake.

The opposition comes in the form of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, led by Lisa James, the former deputy chief of staff for the U.S. House of Representatives, which officially launched on March 17.

James, now of the Gordon C. James PR firm, said she is confident that the Smart & Safe Arizona Act will fail, despite pundits’ claims that recreational marijuana has only gained support since its narrow failure in 2016.

“There’s still a wide group of people who are interested in making sure that Arizona stays safe from this,” James said.

She said the committee already has some financial support, but she refused to say who was backing it.

“It’ll be out on our first report,” she said.

James had her own opposition in 2016 against what was known as Proposition 205 or Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol. Her group was called Just Vote No on Prop 205, and according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s website only brought in $914, but the main opposition, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy raised more than $6 million.

Stacy Pearson, the spokeswoman for Smart & Safe Arizona, the proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, was quick to point out that James and her team did not purchase their own domain names. Pearson said she owns several.

“The first rule of opposition 101 is to secure your domain name,” Pearson said.

Pearson owns, at a minimum, ArizonansForHealthAndPublicSafety.com, AZForHealthAndPublicSafety.com and AFHAPS.com, all of which redirect to the Center for Disease Control’s website on COVID-19.

She said people can visit those sites for “the biggest threat to health in Arizona.”

James owns the domain to AZHealthySafe.com and said the redirecting gimmick from pot proponents was “responsible on their part.”

As far as the announcement goes, Pearson said she was surprised it took this long for an opposition to form, but still criticized James for launching amid a pandemic.

“It’s not time for wild scare tactics about public health right now,” Pearson said. “They should be embarrassed by their sloppy, tone deaf, and ill-timed launch. Trying to scare people right now is shameful.”

James responded that there was nothing blatant about the time she announced her opposition and even did so somewhat quietly.

“The cycle is only so long and it wasn’t intended to be a big splash moment,” James said. “I would have thought [Smart & Safe] would have appreciated our quiet launch during this health crisis, not criticized it.”

The launch came in the form of a press release followed by a tweet.

That tweet was then immediately shared by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, a marijuana prohibitionist who helped lead the opposition in 2016 and George Khalaf, the Data Orbital pollster. Khalaf’s dad, Youssef, is listed as the PAC’s treasurer.

Polk was one of the biggest contributors to the anti-205 campaign along with Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Ducey has previously said his stances on legalizing marijuana remain the same.

“I don’t think any state ever got stronger by being stoned,” he said in June. “And we have existing laws that support medical marijuana.”

The chamber won’t take an official stance on Smart & Safe even after pouring in $1.5 million into the opposition in 2016, and some of the other big contributors of the anti campaign are either dead or in jail.

Bruce Halle, the former owner of Discount Tire, contributed roughly $1 million in opposition in 2016, but he has since passed away. Insys Therapeutics contributed $500,000 and its founder is now serving five years in prison for his role in contributing to the national opioid crisis.

Still, James says she is not worried.

Others who opposed the 2016 effort include Sheldon Adelson, the 87-year-old billionaire casino magnate in Las Vegas, who contributed around $500,000, and Randy Kendrick, wife of the Arizona Diamondbacks general manager, who contributed $100,000, among others.

Smart & Safe has already reached its 237,000 signature threshold and will likely make it onto the November ballot.

Cannabis insiders praise Biden’s pardoning

Mint Cannabis celebrated the official opening of its fourth marijuana dispensary in Arizona, pictured here, near the I-17 and Northern Avenue in Phoenix. On opening day, it donated $1 from every pre-roll sold to the Friends of Freedom and it doubled its veteran discount to 44% on Veterans Day. Arizona marijuana industry insiders, including Raul Molina, co-founder and COO of the Mint Cannabis, are praising President Biden’s recent pardoning of thousands of people convicted of federal, simple possession of marijuana charges, but they say more work needs to be done at the state-level. PHOTO COURTESY OF MINT CANNABIS

Arizona marijuana industry insiders are praising President Biden’s recent pardoning of thousands of people convicted of federal, simple possession of marijuana charges, but they say more work needs to be done at the state level to quickly erase black marks from many cannabis users’ records.

Biden’s mass pardon of cannabis offenders and push to review the status of marijuana under federal law is a big shift in policy for the country. Biden said his administration would evaluate whether marijuana should still be listed in the same legal category as heroin, LSD and other drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana under Schedule 1, saying such “drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

As of Nov. 9, Arizona and 20 other states, as well as two territories and the District of Columbia, had enacted measures to regulate cannabis for non-medical adult use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And as of Feb. 3, Arizona and 36 other states, along with three territories and the District of Columbia, have allowed the medical use of cannabis products.

In addition to announcing he would pardon 6,500 people who have federal convictions for simple marijuana possession around the country, Biden also encouraged states to take the same action in pardoning state-level simple possession of marijuana offenses.

A pardon is an expression of Biden’s forgiveness, but it does not signify the person is innocent of charges or expunge their convictions. It does remove civil disabilities, including limits on the right to vote, hold office or sit on a jury, which are imposed due to convictions.

Pardons also can help when people apply for licenses, bonding or jobs. Currently no one is in federal prison solely for simple possession of marijuana charges, according to the White House and a report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission earlier this year.

“This is going to be incredibly beneficial in terms of anyone who’s being held up with job applications, housing applications,” said Sen Umeda, attorney for the Pima County Public Defender’s Office and at-large board member with Arizona National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

“It is a big deal for them. Having worked a number of years with indigent clients who can’t afford defense attorneys, two of (their) biggest challenges are getting jobs and getting housing. It can take away that barrier that’s instrumental in helping people.

“Does President Biden’s pardon address all our problems? No. We’d really like to see President Biden go farther; pardon for all non-violent (cannabis-related) offenses. We would love to see Governor (Doug) Ducey accept his invitation by extending the expungement here” in Arizona, Umeda added.

Proposition 207 paves way for expungements

Under Arizona’s Proposition 207, a voter initiative approved in November of 2020, those arrested, charged, convicted or acquitted of certain offenses related to cannabis can petition a court for an order that will expunge or seal their marijuana-related criminal records for offenses that occurred before Nov. 30, 2020.

An expungement requires the destruction/sealing of records and makes it as if the person impacted was never arrested, charged or convicted of those actions, according to Jonathan Udell, acting co-director of Arizona NORML and co-chairman of the Cannabis Department of Rose Law Group in Scottsdale.

Umeda said there have been delays in people obtaining expungements in Arizona and “there are some gray areas.” Arizona NORML generally supports expungements for people with any non-violent, cannabis-related offenses, Udell said. That would include minor sales to a neighbor but also any person selling pounds of cannabis, as long as they did not engage in violent or coercive activity or sell marijuana to children, he added.

“There are so many other things we can and need to work on,” Umeda said.

He said it will be interesting to determine whether Democratic Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs would consider decriminalizing marijuana.

Udell said Arizona NORML holds many clinics to educate people about the expungement process, but many people in the state are still unaware of it. State laws in Arizona cannot provide for expungements of any federal offenses, Udell said. He said he and Arizona NORML reached out to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office several months ago to see if it would support an automatic expungement bill for cannabis-related offenses.

“What we gleaned from the conversation, is that they already proactively/automatically expunged the cases and offenses that were readily accessible,” Udell said in an email. “They said the other, older records are not digitized, and they refrained from proactively expunging borderline cases as well as small cannabis charges brought against someone who has more serious charges on their record.

“It’s a monumental path trying to figure out where they are,” Udell said.

Legislative change would help low-level offenders

Jason Kalish, deputy county attorney for Maricopa County, said there would need to be a legislative change and another mechanism to identify eligible cases for expungements in Arizona to be granted automatically for anyone arrested, charged and/or convicted of state-level simple possession of marijuana charges.

While it is somewhat easy to identify cases that have occurred within the past five years, the retention schedules for files for misdemeanor cases are so short that it is difficult to find cases that could be eligible for expungement. Right now, the expungement statute only allows certain cases to be eligible; the amount must be under 2.5 ounces of cannabis. Many marijuana cases in Arizona are misdemeanors.

“There are some logistical issues with that,” Kalish said. “Those would have to be worked out before that was brought forward. We’re doing all we can to identify people who are qualified and get those petitions out there.”

For example, if someone in Arizona had a misdemeanor cannabis offense in 2000, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and other county attorney’s offices in Arizona might not know it exists without searching for a criminal record on the person.

As of this week, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has filed 17,093 petitions to expunge closed cases involving marijuana since Proposition 207 took effect last year.

Kalish said his office prioritizes filing petitions to expunge the cases of those convicted of only simple possession of marijuana charges, not the thousands of people in Arizona who were convicted of burglary, aggravated assault and other crimes who also had marijuana on them when arrested for those other crimes.

Baby steps are celebrated

Raul Molina, co-founder and COO of The Mint Cannabis, which has dispensaries in Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix, also is happy about Biden’s pardoning but wants to see marijuana removed from the Schedule I category at the federal level.

“Any step forward is a step in the right direction,” Molina said. “In the cannabis industry we’ve never done anything all at once. We’ll take the baby steps. We’re grateful it’s being brought up for conversation.”

He predicts in two to three years marijuana will be declassified on the federal level. Doing so would remove cannabis from the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act list. Molina said that seems like it would be a “great thing and would definitely remove all limitations from the plant.” However, there would still be state-run programs for cannabis, like ones in place for the alcohol industry.

Molina said rescheduling marijuana to a Schedule V drug “is the ideal situation.”

“This would allow the plant to claim certain healing qualities that would still have to be approved by the FDA but would allow it to finally find its true role in the Controlled Substance Act, where it is downgraded enough for it to not have so many restrictions and at the same time be given credit for its healing properties,” Molina said.

Many states have already set forth statewide laws and rules regulating cannabis production, taxation and sales. Descheduling marijuana gives those states and others the authority to keep moving forward with those regulations, while allowing states that want to continue prohibiting cannabis production and sales the flexibility to do that, according to NORML.

Molina predicts eventually there will be a bipartisan bill in Arizona to decrease the prices of cannabis for veterans.

“Even the conservatives understand that change is coming,” he said. “It (cannabis) is creating jobs. It is creating family income. It’s growing in leaps and bounds.”

 

 

 

Dems should seek decriminalization, not legalization, of pot

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Arizona Democrats mostly favor Proposition 207, which would legalize the sale of recreational marijuana. But this year, the Democratic National Committee voted to support decriminalization instead of legalization. As a lifelong Democrat, I think this decision fits our party well. 

Decriminalization would take marijuana use completely out of the criminal justice system, which is what Democrats want. Possession would no longer be a crime; it would be an infraction punishable with the equivalent of a traffic ticket. And under Vice-President Joe Biden’s plan, even that record could be expunged. 

The main difference is that with decriminalization, selling the drug would still be illegal. This threatens the  $17 billion marijuana industry. But for Democrats, with our history of standing up to businesses that make money by harming the public health, there are good reasons to dislike this industry. 

Many countries, such as Portugal, decriminalized possession while keeping sales illegal. But in the U.S., several states legalized retail sales. At first there were only small businesses, but marijuana quickly became corporate. Today it has its own private equity firms, venture capitalists, IPOs and lobbyists who cozy up to politicians. In 2018, marijuana companies actually gave more to congressional Republicans than to Democrats. And now the tobacco giants are circling like vultures, ready to buy up marijuana businesses as soon as it’s legalized nationally. 

Democrats have fought “big tobacco” for decades, especially for promoting teenage use. But pot companies appeal to teens far more directly. They market THC-infused candy, soda, and cookies that adolescents really go for. They even sell vape cartridges disguised as pens so kids can get high in class. 

Ed Gogek
Ed Gogek

They also influence teens with advertising. A study published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors found that adolescents who saw marijuana ads were twice as likely to try the drug. 

Despite promises that we could regulate pot like alcohol, marijuana companies use hardball tactics to fight regulations designed to protect kids. When San Diego passed a law forbidding dispensaries within 600 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds, pot companies hired signature-gatherers to force a vote on the regulation. San Diegans wanted the law, but the city rescinded it because the election would have cost $3 million.

In 2016, several Colorado groups tried to put an initiative on the ballot mandating child-resistant packaging, health warnings and limiting THC content to 16%. Knowing they would probably lose the vote, pot companies used their wealth to sign non-compete agreements with every signature-gathering firm in the state. So those kid-friendly groups had no way to get the measure on the ballot. 

There’s a reason a for-profit marijuana industry would encourage teenage use. Just like tobacco, nearly 90% of pot sales are to heavy, often addicted, users who almost all started in their teens. People who start in their teens are twice as likely to get addicted and, as adults, use three times as much pot. There’s a mountain of research showing marijuana permanently damages the adolescent brain, lowers IQ and increases the dropout rate, but the industry’s profits depend on getting adolescents started. 

Sadly, their appeals to teens are very effective. Of the nine states with the highest rates of teenage marijuana use, seven are states that legalized recreational sales. So if we want to protect kids, we have to take the profit out of marijuana. 

Fortunately, there’s now pushback against this industry, even from pot’s biggest boosters. Willie Nelson has smoked weed all his adult life, but he has spoken out against the corporate takeover of his favorite drug. 

In 2015, Dan Riffle, marijuana advocate and political director of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, shocked the marijuana community by quitting his job abruptly, saying the industry was taking over. The industry, he said, would undermine public health because their main concern is profits, and he wanted nothing to do with the for-profit marijuana industry.  

Americans don’t want anyone going to jail for smoking a joint, but no one is clamoring for another multi-billion-dollar industry that cares only about profits. So Democrats should be wary of legalization initiatives like Prop. 207. Decriminalization fits much better with the party’s ideals. It would protect people whose only infraction is using marijuana, allowing them to go through life with a clean record. It would also protect teenage kids from an industry whose profits depend on enticing them to use drugs.

Ed Gogek, is an addiction psychiatrist and author of Marijuana Debunked: A handbook for parents, pundits and politicians who want to know the case against legalization.

Fate of most 2020 bills met at Legislature’s deadline

Bills

Silent death has come for about two-thirds of the 1,707 bills and resolutions introduced this year in the Legislature.

A February 21 deadline for bills to be heard in their chambers of origin killed most of them, but other bills died primarily because of public outcry

Ideas contained in some of those dead bills could still be revived via amendments later in the legislative process, but their chances of success remain slim.

On February 20, mirror resolutions relating to a constitutional ban of sanctuary cities in the state both saw their demise after protests and controversy drew plenty of local and national attention. The measures were dubbed Gov. Doug Ducey’s “1070,” a reference to the divisive 2010 immigration bill SB1070, which sought to give the state more power to deal with the issue of illegal immigration.

Other notable legislation, including most of the measures in the House to revamp sentencing laws and any attempt to usurp the impending effort to legalize recreational marijuana, also hit a wall.

And Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, put a quick end to any sex education measures in that chamber – controversial or otherwise – after the first day of session.

Sex Ed

Sex education appeared poised to be one of the biggest fights of the session, after conservatives, including Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, took the position that sex ed is the school-sponsored sexualization of young children.

Sylvia Allen
Sylvia Allen

Before the session started, Allen drafted a bill that would ban schools from teaching sex education before seventh grade. The Snowflake Republican’s measure also appeared to ban any discussion of homosexuality during sex ed courses, bringing national attention to the state.

While Allen dismissed that reading of her bill and pledged to amend it, Senate President Karen Fann killed it quickly. Four of the seven bills Fann declined to assign to committees relate to sex education and depictions of homosexuality in instructional materials.

“I am looking at and reading carefully bills that could be highly controversial and whether they have a chance of passing or not,” Fann said.

House Republicans, including Rep. Leo Biasiucci of Lake Havasu and John Fillmore of Apache Junction, introduced their own bills to ban the teaching of sex ed for young students. Those measures also died without hearings, and the only bill related to sex ed that has continued its journey is an omnibus measure proposed by a governor’s task force that would require instruction on recognizing signs of child abuse.

Criminal Justice Change

Rep. Walter Blackman’s bill to establish and expand earned release credits for people incarcerated for non-violent crimes cleared an important hurdle in the House Judiciary Committee on February 20. and looks likely to pass the full House. But this came in spite of – or perhaps at the expense of – a flurry of other proposed changes to the criminal justice system from both caucuses.

The Snowflake Republican, who is at the spearhead of a movement to remake the criminal system, also proposed legislation to establish an oversight committee and ombudsman position to regulate and audit the oft-troubled Arizona Department of Corrections. That bill never got a hearing. Same with his bill to establish pre-arrest diversion and deflection programs that would allow officers to direct people they contact to social services, though a watered down version from Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, made it through the Judiciary Committee he chairs.

Additionally, his bill that would compel the department to offer free feminine hygiene products and provide extra services to pregnant women didn’t even get a committee assignment. Similar bills from Democrats like Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, and Rep. Kristen Engel, D-Tucson, were victims of the partisan process, never even making it across the starting line.

Allen is responsible for some of this. In a February Judiciary Committee hearing, he killed a series of bills that would bolster data collection and make other reforms to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, an apparent act of revenge against members of the committee he chairs who voted down one of his criminal justice bills.

Elections

A pair of House Republicans introduced election bills that stirred outcry at the Capitol this year — one that would bar college students from listing dormitories as an address on their voter registration and another that would allow law enforcement officers to be posted at all polling places throughout the state during primary and general elections.

Bob Thorpe
Bob Thorpe

While these may not be considered the most controversial election bills, limiting how college students can vote is not a new idea, especially from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff.

Thorpe introduced his measure on two separate occasions. Once when it was assigned to the House Elections Committee, but never received a hearing, and another he wrote as a strike-everything amendment to a different bill of his assigned to the House Technology Committee, which he chairs. He ultimately did not give it a hearing, effectively killing it.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, on the other hand, wanted police officers at every polling station in the state because of potential violence he thought could erupt due to the growing political divide in the country. But without a plan to fund this option, among other potential issues, the bill was never assigned to a committee.

Marijuana

Despite the likely-to-pass recreational marijuana initiative coming to the ballot this November, Democratic lawmakers still made attempts of their own to legalize the product without seeking voter approval.

Two attempts were virtually marked dead on arrival when Bowers and Fann confirmed that they wouldn’t hear any legislation to legalize recreational pot.

Isela Blanc
Isela Blanc

Democratic Reps. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, and Randy Friese, D-Tucson, came out with dueling proposals. Blanc’s was fueled by her criticism of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, a proposed ballot measure which she has said would create an oligopoly of powerful cannabis business interests at the expense of minority communities ravaged by the war on drugs. The act’s backers took note and made changes, but not enough to stave off her attempt, which never received a committee hearing.

Across the aisle, Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, lost his battle to pass legislation aiming to keep potentially dangerous pesticides of marijuana plants by requiring grow-ops to exclusively use pesticides exempt from federal regulations. But that bill went up in smoke. It needed three-fourths vote to amend the voter-approved law, but was killed when 10 Democrats voted in opposition.

Gender Identity

The Legislature made clear it had no appetite for bills that dealt with gender identity this session. Reps. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, and John Filllmore, R-Apache Junction, introduced opposing bills.

Gabaldon’s HB2075 would have added “nonbinary” as a third option for gender on state-issued driver’s licenses, something more than a dozen states already allow. It would also make that identity available for people who don’t drive.

Rosanna Gabaldon
Rosanna Gabaldon

“These individuals don’t recognize themselves as male or female,” Gabaldon said to Capitol Media Services in January. “I don’t see it as controversial.”

Fillmore’s HB2080 would prohibit any state agency, board, commission or department from issuing any document that lists any sex other that “male” or “female.” It would also require birth certificates to only use those options as well and stop schools from requiring teachers to use a sex or gender pronoun when discussing class material “other than the sex or gender pronoun that corresponds to the sex listed on the student’s birth certificate.”

Neither bill got a hearing.

Title Lending

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, arrived at the Capitol before dawn on the first day to pre-file bills, with a stack of measures to regulate the title lending industry in hand. But Farnsworth’s first bills of the session — just like the resolution Sen. Victoria Steele introduced early that same morning to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment — died unheard.

One of Farnsworth’s bills aimed to prohibit title lenders, who offer short-term loans at high interest rates with a car as collateral, from making these loans to people who don’t actually own their car outright.

David Farnsworth
David Farnsworth

Two others were slightly differently worded attempts to cap annual interest rates for title loans at 36%. A 2020 ballot initiative dubbed the Arizona Fair Lending Act would have included both clauses, but supporters conceded that they could not gather the 237,645 valid signatures of registered voters required to make the ballot.

Farnsworth’s legislative measures, meanwhile, never received a hearing in Sen. J.D. Mesnard’s Senate Finance Committee. The Chandler Republican said he prefers that customers have the “freedom” to negotiate their own contracts without government interference.

Farnsworth lamented: “It looks like my whole summer was wasted! I guess I should’ve gone on vacation like everyone else.”

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that there have been 1842 bills and resolutions introduced in the 2020 legislative session. The actual number is 1,707

Group to write alternative to recreational marijuana ballot proposal

A group of businesses has united to oppose the initiative being circulated to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

But it’s not that members of the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce want to keep all adults from being able to use the drug. It’s that they don’t like some of the provisions – particularly one that would give the companies that already sell medical marijuana a virtual monopoly on the recreational market.

So now they’re crafting their own version in hopes that lawmakers who share similar sentiments will put theirs on the 2020 ballot as an alternative.

“We’re pro adult use,” said Mason Cave, a member of the advisory board which is composed of some independent dispensaries, consultants and suppliers.  “We just think there’s a better way to do it than what the initiative has proposed.”

Issue No. 1 is who gets to sell the drug.

As originally crafted, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act would have not just limited the number of licenses to about 130 but reserved virtually all of them to the companies – and some multi-state corporations – that already are allowed to sell medical marijuana to patients.

A slightly revised version filed this past week adds 26 “social equity” licenses to the mix, with provisions for additional shops in rural areas with no dispensaries or just one.

But Cave told Capitol Media Services that his members still find that lacking, calling it a “drug cartel-ish approach to the whole situation.” That, he said, isn’t fair to others.

“They basically removed the green rush and the idea of being able to go out and start your own business in this wonderful new industry,” Cave said, keeping it to themselves.

Stacy Pearson
Stacy Pearson

The initiative is being financed largely by several major multi-state players in the marijuana industry including CuraLeaf and Harvest Enterprises, both of which already have multiple dispensaries in Arizona. But Stacy Pearson, a spokeswoman for the campaign, argued that giving the initial licenses to existing medical marijuana dispensaries and the overall limits both make sense.

For the former, she said it ensures that if voters approve recreational marijuana in 2020 that there will be a network of shops already in place and already regulated by the Arizona Department of Health Services for people to buy the drug.

As to the limits – one for every 10 pharmacies in the state – Pearson argued that would keep Arizona communities from looking like sections of Denver with marijuana shop after marijuana shop.

“Folks don’t want it everywhere,” she said. “They want them discreet and limited.”

But Cave said that is a manufactured fear, pointing out that existing Arizona law limits where dispensaries can be located to certain non-residential zones.

“It’s very difficult to find sites that work currently for zoning medical marijuana,” he said.

So how many licenses does Cave and his group think should be allowed?

He has no answer, saying it should be “somewhere between 126, which is probably too few, and one on every street corner.” That detail, said Cave, is still to be worked out.

“But it’s not the right thing to do to say, ‘This is better and we’ll control all the licenses and not have one on every corner,’ ” he said. “I think that’s a little disingenuous.”

Isela Blanc
Isela Blanc

Those limits in the initiative also have caught the attention of Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe.

Blanc said she is studying the revisions and understands that there are opportunities for some new licenses. But she isn’t sure that goes far enough.

“It’s still a form of monopolization of an industry,” she sad.

Cave said his organization has other issues with the initiative.

One is the 16 percent tax on sales. Backers say the $300 million a year that would be generated would help fund community colleges, public safety and health.

But Cave said a levy that high could be counterproductive.

“We’re watching what’s going on in Colorado with the black market,” he said, with a certain amount of marijuana still being sold outside the legal dispensary system because it is cheaper.

And Cave questions whether it makes sense to have the health department regulate the dispensaries and, more to the point, police the sales to ensure that minors are not able to purchase the drug. He said it might make more sense to put those responsibilities into the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control which already does similar enforcement to prevent alcohol sales to minors.

Blanc, like Cave, wants the measure crafted by the Legislature. But she is hoping that lawmakers agree to enact the plan themselves rather than what Cave wants to simply putting an alternative on the 2020 ballot alongside the other initiative.

She conceded that convincing some of her colleagues to vote to legalize recreational use of marijuana could prove difficult. But Blanc said she believes that as lawmakers study the issue and as they see repeat polls showing strong public support for adult use they will recognize that it makes more sense for them to craft a program they find acceptable.

“If we don’t do it, Arizonans will,” she said.

And there’s something else.

If there are flaws or tweaks needed in a legislative plan, changes are possible, requiring a simple majority of the House and Senate along with the governor.

But the Voter Protection Act of the Arizona Constitution says that anything approved at the ballot needs a three-fourths vote of the Legislature to alter. And even then, changes are permitted only if they “further the purpose” of the original measure.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich said he recognizes that distinction and believes that if there is to be recreational use of marijuana it should be under rules approved by lawmakers and subject to alterations.

 

Health director: Alternative pain relief could help curb opioid abuse, deaths

Rx pills

Faced with an average of two deaths a day, the state’s top health official is looking for ways to curb the abuse of opioids, both legal and otherwise.

And some of that may involve getting doctors to find alternative relief for patients with chronic pain — including possibly recommending the use of medical marijuana.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Department of Health Services, said Thursday some of the meteoric rise in deaths — up from 454 in 2012 to 790 last year — can be traced to illegal drug use, people looking for a “high.” That is reflected in a tripling in the number of Arizonans who die from heroin overdose.

But there are more actual deaths from prescription opioids. While Christ said some of these can be people misusing the drugs for recreational purposes, she suspects there are people who have become hooked on them because of chronic pain.

One indication of that, she said, is the pure data.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (Photo by Gary Grado, Arizona Capitol Times)
Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (Photo by Gary Grado, Arizona Capitol Times)

Christ said the death rate from opioid abuse and overdose is higher among those in the 45 to 54-year-old age group than it is among any other 10-year spread. This is a group, she said, which is less likely using the drug for recreation.

So who’s to blame?

“That’s difficult,” Christ said.

She said some of it starts with doctors.

“People were educated years ago that they are non-addictive, that they are great resources for pain, you don’t need to use them only for cancer or terminal pain,” Christ said. “We underestimated the addictive potential of these medications.”

And the government itself, she said, shares the blame.

Christ said the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services links hospital reimbursement and hospital performance scores to patient satisfaction surveys. And those surveys include two questions about how their pain was treated.

“I think that assisted in this,” she said.

“Then when you clamp down on the supply of it, you have these people who have no other choice and choose, then, heroin,” Christ continued. “And we do know that four out of five heroin drug users started as prescription drug users.”

Changing that, she said, starts with doctors finding alternatives to pain management.

“There are a lot of other effective treatments, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,” she said, ranging from aspirin to ibuprofen — drugs like Advil and Motrin — and naproxen, which is marketed as Aleve and similar drugs. And Christ said her agency is going to set up a “chronic pain program” to work with insurance companies to ensure that they are providing coverage for such medications.

That program, she said, also is designed to provide help to patients to manage their chronic pain, “just like you would with diabetes or heart disease.”

And what of medical marijuana?

The 2010 voter-approved initiative allows doctors to recommend the drug to patients with certain specified medical conditions. And one of them is chronic pain.

Christ said she can’t say whether marijuana might be suitable for some people, outweighing the potential dangers of that drug.

“Each individual is going to be different,” she said, saying patients need to discuss options with their doctors.

“The voters decided that medical marijuana was one of them for chronic pain,” Christ said. “If patients are interested, that’s something they should talk with their health care provider about.”

What the new report shows, said Christ, is the need for even more data to understand the patterns — and the causes and possible cures.

There already have been various efforts to reduce the abuse and overuse of prescription opioids.

Last year lawmakers approved creating a centralized database that doctors are supposed to check before writing certain prescriptions. The idea is to curb “doctor shopping,” with patients going from one medical office to another to get prescriptions for not just opioids but other controlled substances.

Gov. Doug Ducey also signed an executive order last October limiting the first prescription of opioids to no more than a seven-day supply in cases where the state is providing the reimbursement.

On the other end of the spectrum, Arizona pharmacists can now dispense naloxone, a counter to opioid-related overdoses, over the counter so that family members can have the drug on hand if needed.

Christ said there is also a role for law enforcement — but not in going after those addicted to or abusing the drug.

I truly believe that opioid addiction and abuse is a health concern,” she said. “It’s a disease.”

And that, Christ said, means that people who want help need to feel it’s safe to get it without risk of getting arrested.

“The law enforcement component comes in with the suppliers,” she said.

“We’ve heard it anecdotally that people who really are trying to go get help, and they’re standing in line at a methadone clinic to get the medication they need to treat their illness, and they’ve got heroin dealers coming up to them in line,” Christ said. “That’s inappropriate.”

Hemp could be water saving crop for farmers

Hemp Flower Buds in a Field with Shallow Background
Hemp Flower Buds in a Field with Shallow Background

A new federal law legalizing the growing of hemp comes not a moment too soon as Arizona farmers are likely to be looking for crops that don’t need as much water.
The 2018 Farm Bill approved by Congress opens the door wide to commercial hemp production. Not only does it spell out that hemp is legally different than marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law, but it allows for the interstate sale and processing of the plant and any products that can be made from it.
As it turns out, Arizona already is on the road to legalizing hemp production, possibly as early as this  August 2019.
A bill signed last year by Gov. Doug Ducey directed the state Department of Agriculture to craft rules to allow farmers here to start growing the non-psychoactive form of marijuana. That was allowed after a 2014 federal law gave states some permission to license hemp growers for “research purposes.”
Those rules are expected to be in place by August.
But Brian McGrew, the agency’s industrial hemp program manager, said what Congress just approved is a game-changer for Arizona farmers looking for alternative crops.
“It completely deregulates and takes it off the Schedule 1 narcotics list,” he said, where marijuana and its cousins have been listed for years. “And then it becomes an agricultural commodity that can go from state to state without the restrictions that were there before.”
That, McGrew said, is important.
“Someone will be able to grow industrial hemp here in Arizona and then send that harvested hemp to, say, a processing facility for fiber or whatever it might be into a different state,” he said. And McGrew said there is an increasing demand for hemp for everything from fibers for clothing to oils for soap.
Still, he said, there have to be rules.
That’s because hemp is defined as a cannabis plant but with a concentration of tetrahydrocannibinol, the psychoactive element of marijuana, that is less than than 0.3 percent.
Only thing is, visually, what’s grown as hemp and what’s grown as marijuana looks pretty much the same.
“It’s still a product of the cannabis plant and technically the same plant as marijuana,” he said.
That, then, requires monitoring — and testing — by the state Department of Agriculture to ensure that farmers who decide to grow hemp are not dabbling in something that remains a violation of federal law and illegal in Arizona except for medical marijuana patients. Those are the rules, McGrew said, that are now being developed.
He said this isn’t just the department acting in a vacuum. McGrew said the agency has been working with stakeholders — farmers, processors and those who want to make commercial products out of the hemp — to come up with something everyone can live with and complies with the law.
The starting point is the 2017 Arizona statute legalizing hemp and the rules it requires. McGrew said there’s a good reason for that: While hemp will be just another agricultural option for farmers, this won’t be like growing cotton or tomatoes.
Most significant is that anyone who wants to grow hemp first has to be licensed by the state. And there are other hurdles.
“We still have to collect samples,” McGrew said. “And then a portion of those will be tested to ensure compliance to guarantee that what is being grown in Arizona remains below that 0.3 percent THC.
That’s not just necessary to stay out of trouble with the state. The new farm bill specifically says that anything with a higher THC concentrate remains illegal under federal law and therefore cannot be put into interstate commerce.
Plans are also to monitor and audit processors and others involved in hemp production.
Here, too, federal law comes into play, with a requirement for the state to submit its regulatory plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval.
But McGrew figures if Arizona can overcome these hurdles there’s a bright future for hemp farming here.
One crucial fact, he said, is it takes only about a third of the water to grow hemp as it does to grow cotton. All this is occurring as a proposed drought contingency plan is likely to reduce water delivery to farmers in Central Arizona.
“It’s more of a light-driven plant,” he said, with Arizona having plenty of that. Still, McGrew urged caution for farmers who are considering converting entirely to hemp production.
“I don’t think it’s going to be this miracle crop,” he said. But McGrew said it could still prove useful, even as a plant that can be part of crop rotation.
And McGrew said the growing season for hemp is such that farmers actually could get multiple harvests each year, something not possible with things like cotton.
The 2017 measure got signed into law after prosecutors dropped their initial objections.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer agreed to the final version after the bill was amended to provide what she believes are sufficient regulatory and testing requirements to ensure that what the state is legalizing does not become an excuse for farmers to start growing fields of marijuana and claiming it is hemp.
The law also gives the state Department of Agriculture $500,000 a year to hire inspectors and police the industry.

Here’s why Prop 207 is losing support

marijuana-620

The marijuana sellers who wrote Proposition 207 had the marketing all figured out. This time, they would give the ballot proposition a respectable sounding name, tweak a couple of details without really limiting their potential market, and spread the word that this recreational marijuana proposition was “Smart and Safe.”

Polling indicated their ploy was working. Polls consistently showed Arizona voters would likely support such a measure. Then, the details began to emerge. Voters learned Prop 207 does far more than decriminalize recreational marijuana. The 17-pages of changes to Arizona laws would affect drivers, teens, kids, employees and employers, landlords, HOAs, neighborhoods and more. Suddenly, this is no longer about just smoking weed and minding your own business.

The latest polling shows a significant drop in support for Prop 207. One poll shows support at just one-percentage point above opposition, at 46% and 45% respectively. Another poll puts likely voter support at just 47%.

The marijuana industry wrote a self-serving proposition that puts kids and teens in harms way by allowing THC-laced candies, gummies, cookies, and other snacks. Then, gave themselves the ability to market those items on all platforms that teens frequent, including social media.

They put a deceptive limit on candies and snacks that appeal to kids, while still packing a full 10 servings in one candy bar. Other forms have no limit at all. For example, concentrates used in vape pens can contain up to 100% THC.

Lisa James
Lisa James

Prop 207 legalizes recreational marijuana for adults only. Every state that legalized it, did so for adults only, and still, a lot more teens use it.

We know what marijuana use can do to a teen’s brain. It inhibits brain development , causing permanent IQ loss, and it hinders learning, attention, and emotional responses. It can lead to long-term dependence, especially if they use the high potency marijuana concentrates, like that in vape pens.

Perhaps much of the decline in support for Prop 207 comes from the clear increased danger on the roads. The proposition eliminates current law prohibiting driving with impairing THC in one’s system. Without replacing that standard with any other clear line of impairment, it’s left to police and courts to hash out. Prop 207 makes using marijuana a statutory right, making it more difficult to prosecute marijuana impaired drivers.

The proposition also doesn’t address the immediate risk to others on the road, because there is still no reliable roadside test for marijuana impairment like there is for alcohol. Breathalyzer tests can gauge alcohol levels and quickly determine if the driver reaches the clear standard of impairment set by state officials. Police can then remove the drunk driver from the road before someone gets killed. That level of precaution is alarmingly missing from Prop 207.

States that passed similar initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana experienced a significant increase in marijuana related fatal crashes. In Colorado, the number doubled. That isn’t surprising when nearly 70% of marijuana users there admit to driving stoned, and almost a third, daily.

 Prop 207 protects the marijuana industry, while setting up other employers for costly lawsuits, high turnover, and dangerous working conditions. Under the proposition, employers cannot take adverse action against employees because they exercise their right to use marijuana. And, although they can prohibit marijuana use at work, there is nothing stopping employees from using off-site, and then going to work at a daycare, elderly care facility, or worksite.

The measure also ties the hands of landlords and HOAs, rendering them powerless against the new right to grow and use marijuana. There is no recourse for a homeowner or renter when a next-door neighbor grows as many as 12, 12-foot tall marijuana plants. There is no recourse when a bag of high potency marijuana is delivered to the porch next-door as your children play outside.  

Under the guise of economic benefit to the state, marijuana sellers whet the appetites of many underfunded programs. But, Prop 207 caps the tax at 16%, regardless of the cost to the state, meaning it will not pay for itself, much less make the state money. Colorado pays $4.50 for every one dollar in marijuana revenue.

Prop 207 is not a moneymaker. It allocates no funds to k-12 education. It would bring more danger to our roads, harm to our kids, cost and headache to our employers, and Arizona’s Voter Protection Act would prevent lawmakers from fixing any problems that arise. As voters learn all this, it is no surprise Prop 207 is sinking in the polls.

Lisa James is the Chair of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety.  Their website is www.no207az.com.

House kills bill to allow eye tests for pot impairment

Deposit Photos/Syda Productions
Deposit Photos/Syda Productions

Unwilling to trust untested technology, state lawmakers voted Wednesday to block employers from firing workers based on their eye movements.

Current state labor law spells out the kinds of tests that companies can use to determine if current or prospective employees are impaired or under the influence of certain chemicals or alcohol. That includes testing urine, saliva, blood, breath, hair or “other substances from the person being tested.”

SB 1199 would amend that to include “eye movement data collected using software on an electronic device.”

What’s behind this bill is lobbying by the Zxerex Corp., a Scottsdale firm formed last year for the specific purpose of coming up with technology to determine marijuana impairment. Lobbyist Stuart Goodman, speaking to lawmakers last month, said there is a real need.

“There is lots of technology regarding presence, but not impairment,” he said.

There is a basis for eye-movement tests. Arizona law already allows trained police officers to use them to make a preliminary determination if someone is legally intoxicated on alcohol.

But even Goodman conceded that the eye movements involved in marijuana impairment are different — and far more subtle. In fact, he said, what Zxerex is researching is using a camera or smart phone linked to a computer to analyze these tiny movements which are invisible to the naked eye and then, using artificial intelligence, determine if someone is impaired by marijuana.

The technology, he conceded, is not quite ready, with an accuracy rate of just 90 percent. “So there’s still more testing going on,” Goodman said.

That current 10 percent error rate left some lawmakers uneasy about changing the law.

“Essentially, once again, we’re allowing the people of Arizona to be the guinea pigs,” said Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, the first time the measure was debated last month. And she said it appears that people who believe the results are inaccurate are left with one option: take the case to court.

“Well, most folks aren’t going to take it to court because they don’t have those kind of resources,” Epstein said.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said the problem is even worse than that. She said there are no actual published research reports which show a correlation between changes in eye movement and marijuana impairment.

In fact, Powers Hannley, who works for the American Journal of Medicine, said the research that is out there shows the links that do exist include certain medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. The result, she said, is people could be fired for medical conditions.

But Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, said there’s a good reason there are not independent, peer-reviewed studies.

“The research is proprietary,” Weninger said.

That explanation did not sit well with Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson.

“If you are asking this body to make a decision, don’t you think we should have access to all the data before we decide?”

Weninger, however, said legislators are not entitled to know everything, suggesting that demanding this research would be tantamount to having Coca-Cola release its secret formula. And he said foes of the bill are off base.

“It never ceases to amaze me the lengths we go to protect, I guess, somebody to be high,” he said. And Weninger said it’s wrong to worry about people losing a job.

“What about protecting employees and fellow employees from danger because somebody is impaired on the job?” Weninger said. “Where does the consideration to your fellow man or woman next to you and putting them in danger?”

Most of his colleagues did not see it that way, voting 34-24 to kill the measure.

Innovative state program helped marijuana industry

Online Banking Concept Background as a Abstract

Federal banking laws have created more than just an isolated crisis for Arizona’s multi-billiondollar marijuana industry. They’ve created a dangerous problem for the state of Arizona. Banking laws make it nearly impossible for cannabis dispensaries to obtain basic financial services such as a checking account. As a result, a multi-billiondollar legal Arizona industry is forced to operate in all cash. Imagine driving around tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to pay vendors, landlords, suppliers, and utility bills. Imagine a legitimate business taking in millions in all cash that cannot be deposited in a bank account and must be stored on-site. This is the grim reality for cannabis dispensaries. 

Sarah Wessel
Sarah Wessel

I am the co-founder of ALTA, an Arizona startup created to address this statewide problem. We owe our creation to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s innovative FinTech Sandbox program. The Sandbox program allows start up financial technology companies like ALTA to test our product while we obtain licenses and regulatory approval. It provided a degree of certainty as we navigated the road to approval. We are proud to report ALTA has officially launched and has successfully exited the Sandbox.   

I believe the Sandbox represents a commitment from Arizona to foster innovation.  We are a leading example. It’s a unique problem-solving partnership between the public sector and the private sector.  

ALTA is excited to offer a solution to an unfair situation faced by Arizona’s voterapproved marijuana dispensaries that simply needed a safe and secure way to operate their legitimate businesses. It is a digital payment network where cash intensive businesses pay each other using digital tokens instead of cash. No bank account is required to use ALTA. 

 And while the lack of clarity rooted in federal banking laws may have caused this problem for legal cannabis dispensaries, our goal is to make Arizona an example of how to solve this problem nationwide. We plan to expand into other states as we increase our employee roster. We will proudly say that we were born and raised in Arizona. 

And I suspect that is one of the reasons why the Sandbox program was created. It can indeed make Arizona a center of the financial technology industry, an industry with plenty of room for growth. That means more jobs and more tax dollars for our state. 

Stories about government red tape and excessive regulation impeding new business creation are nothing new. It is encouraging to know that Arizona is changing that narrative on multiple levels. 

Earlier this year, the Arizona Department of Health Services executed a swift and sane rollout of recreational marijuana just months after it was approved by voters. Now our attorney general has helped foster a way for these legal dispensaries to solve what was a highly problematic financial services challenge for the industry and a safety concern for the state. 

ALTA is proud to be part of these positive narratives. And we look forward to serving Arizona, and an emerging Arizona industry for years to come. Safely. And smartly. 

Sarah Wessel is co-founder ALTA.
  

 

Lawmaker wants 60% of voters to OK ballot measures

vote-here-620

A Yuma Republican wants voters to make it more difficult for themselves to pass ballot propositions.

Coming on the heels of a narrow victory for proponents of Proposition 208, a tax hike on the state’s richest people to pay for public education, Rep. Timothy Dunn, R-Yuma, filed HCR2016, which would require ballot measures to get 60% of the vote to pass. This would also apply to vetoes of initiatives and referendums as well as constitutional changes.

In 2020, Prop. 208 received 51.75% of the vote, which was good enough for more than 1.65 million voters, but under Dunn’s proposal would not have passed.

The other 2020 ballot measure, Proposition 207, which legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 and up, just barely would be enacted under the proposed referendum. It received 60.03% of the vote and became the largest vote-getter in state history with more than 1.9 million people choosing “yes.”

Ironically, for Dunn’s referendum to become law, it would only need a simple majority of votes. Since it is a ballot referral, it would not need the signature of Gov. Doug Ducey, and it would instead go directly to the Secretary of State’s Office to be put on the ballot for 2022.

Dunn did not immediately return a voicemail to explain why he was pushing this measure.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry has noted the concept. The chamber, which has been a staunch opponent of laws through the initiative process over the years, spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat measures, especially ones pushed by progressive Democrats like the two in 2020.

Chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor previously told Capitol Media Services a change of the threshold for victory to 60% like in some other states would be merited, but told Arizona Capitol Times on January 20 that the chamber would not take a stance “at this time.”

“We’re encouraged that the Legislature wants to dig into initiative reform this year,” Taylor said.

If enacted, HCR2016 would have killed at least two earlier efforts the chamber opposed — the legalization of medical marijuana in 2010 and the minimum wage hike voters approved in 2016. Those received 50.13%percent and 58.33%, respectively.

In fact, even the Voter Protection Act, approved in 1998 and which effectively makes it impossible for the Legislature to change ballot measures, would not have become law as it only received 52.26% of the vote.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said she could not think of any conceivable reason why this measure is even necessary.

“Here we are again with legislators holding the people to a higher standard than we hold ourselves to,” she said, adding that in order for a bill to become a law through the legislative process it would only need a simple majority vote, not 60%.

“This is a part of a multi-year agenda that is effectively a power grab away from the people and concentrated in the hands of a party that is becoming increasingly less popular with the majority of both Arizona and voters in the entire country,” Salman said about Republicans.

Several efforts aimed at changing the initiative process were introduced last session, but died in the pandemic-shortened session.

Salman sees this as another attempt to silence the voices of Arizona voters because even if 59.99% of the vote, or more than 1.6 million people choose to approve a measure, it won’t be enough.

Legalized marijuana shrinks underground market

Arizona is on the verge of a tremendous victory for public safety.

This election, voters will be asked whether to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults. If we make the right choice by voting Yes on Proposition 207, and I believe we will, our communities will benefit from a wiser use of criminal justice resources. 

 There are few experiences more frustrating to a good police officer than enforcing laws that simply do not make sense.

Whether a responsible adult is using marijuana should be of no concern to the officers entrusted with apprehending dangerous criminals and investigating serious crimes. In fact, it’s insulting to law enforcement and insulting to the people of a free society.

Whether children are using marijuana is another matter, but that is an issue solved by parents and mental health professionals, not by police.

J. Gary Nelson
J. Gary Nelson

 Two-thirds of Americans, including 55% of Republican voters, support legalizing marijuana for adults. The federal government has not risen to this demand, so states have taken matters into their own hands. But, when policy is far removed from public opinion — especially in states like ours where marijuana is still illegal — backlash is inevitable. 

 People stop trusting the government and the rule of law, and police are the first to feel the animosity because we interact with the public every day. As we make marijuana arrests, our work gets much more difficult, and the people we serve become less engaged in fighting real crime. They stop reporting crimes, and they certainly have no interest in helping us solve them. Marijuana prohibition alone has destroyed relationships that police need to do our jobs. I’m just one of many police officers who look back on the marijuana arrests we made and wonder, “Why on Earth are we doing this?”

 Humans have used marijuana for centuries, so it would be ridiculous to think we could eliminate the demand. Since we cannot control demand, it’s smart to regulate the supply so that consumers are protected from shady dealings and contaminated products, communities benefit from job creation, and jurisdictions receive tax revenue for public projects. 

 People arrested for marijuana face steep fines, loss of housing, barriers to employment, loss of parental rights, and limited educational opportunities. Despite the consequences, millions of Americans still use marijuana regularly. We have to admit that whatever good we thought would come of this policy isn’t achievable. On the other hand, when marijuana is sold in the legal market, marijuana arrests drop dramatically which saves taxpayer money and keeps innocent people out of the justice system. This makes far more sense.

 Childproof packaging and age restrictions on purchases also protect young people, but both of these are impossible when marijuana is illegal. It’s not easy for police to track down a seller with no business license, no contact information, and no address. Instead of sending police on a wild goose chase, just put marijuana in a secure storefront owned by licensed professionals. At least then we can send undercover officers and inspectors to ensure health and safety compliance. If we know where the goose lives, there’s no need for a chase.

 By regulating marijuana, we also let police focus on real crimes. In 2018, the clearance rate for rape cases in Phoenix was just 11%. Marijuana arrests distract police from the crimes that are actually hurting people. This is tragic, and we must not let it continue. 

 Legalization and regulation is the answer. There’s simply no other option that shrinks the underground market, improves the safety of our communities, and helps to repair the broken relationships between police and the people we serve. I am proud to vote Yes on Proposition 207.

Det. Sgt. J. Gary Nelson (Ret.) spent 27 years as a police officer in Arizona. He’s now a representative of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of police, judges, prosecutors, and others in criminal justice who promote evidence-based public safety solutions. 

Legalizing marijuana use will create jobs and new revenue

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Guest columnist Lisa James’ fear-mongering commentary October 26 on why Proposition 207 is losing support has little basis in reality.

To date, 11 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized cannabis for adult use.

None of these states have ever repealed or even rolled back their policies.

That is because these legalization laws are operating largely as voters intended and that the public finds preferable to criminal prohibition.

In fact, public opinion nationwide in favor of marijuana legalization now stands at an all-time high — with two out of three Americans endorsing it.

Paul Armentano
Paul Armentano

Certainly, such support would be unthinkable if legalization, in practice, resulted in the sort of ‘sky is falling’ scenarios alleged by Ms. James and the No207az campaign she represents.

Marijuana law reform is sorely needed in Arizona. Currently, Arizona is the only state in the nation that classifies minor marijuana offenses as potential felonies. Those Arizonans arrested and convicted under the law must bear the stigma of a criminal record and the loss of professional and economic opportunities that come with it. These penalties are a disproportionate public-policy response to behavior that is, at worst, a matter of public health. But it should not be a criminal justice matter.

Proposition 207 will disrupt the illicit market, end low-level marijuana arrests, create jobs and new revenue. It will not jeopardize public safety, but rather it will strengthen public safety by redirecting criminal justice resources away from marijuana possession enforcement and toward more serious criminal investigations, while simultaneously providing oversight and regulations to the marijuana marketplace. A “yes” vote is the right vote for Arizona.

Paul Armentano is deputy director, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: [email protected] or (703) 606-7539.

Legislative legalization of recreational marijuana arduous, possible

This September 11, 2018, file photo shows a marijuana plant at in the coastal mountain range of San Luis Obispo, Calif. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has suggested the Legislature, instead of the voters, legalize recreational marijuana. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
This September 11, 2018, file photo shows a marijuana plant at in the coastal mountain range of San Luis Obispo, Calif. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has suggested the Legislature, instead of the voters, legalize recreational marijuana. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Only two states have legalized marijuana for recreational use legislatively. Could Arizona become the third?

Some top Republicans would prefer it that way, at least opposed to the more likely alternative: Arizona voters getting a say at the ballot in November 2020, as marijuana advocates prepare to launch a campaign proposing legalization and regulated sales for adults 21 and older.

Most states have approved legalization as a ballot issue, be it for medical use or recreational, as state legislators have been reluctant to address a politically controversial subject.

Vermont broke the mold in January 2018, when Republican Gov. Phil Scott somewhat reluctantly signed a law that legalized possession and cultivation of marijuana, but did not establish a state marketplace for marijuana sales.

Illinois became the first state to accomplish full legalization, sales included, in June, when newly-elected Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law that also could expunge criminal records for those previously convicted of purchasing certain amounts of marijuana.

Assuming legalization is all but certain if it goes to a vote of the people, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in July it’d be better if the Grand Canyon State followed in the path of Vermont and Illinois, arguing that legalized marijuana is far too complex an issue to be decided by a simple up or down vote at the ballot.

Also of concern to Brnovich is the state’s Voter Protection Act, which only allows laws approved by voters to be amended by a three-fourths majority vote of the Legislature.

Brnovich’s concern is nothing new among the state’s Republican majority. Lawmakers frequently gripe that their hands are “tied” by the Voter Protection Act, which further states that even with a three-fourths majority vote, a voter-approved law can only be changed if it furthers the intent of the law.

To avoid the act’s restrictions, the Legislature would need to approve a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, an achievement most are skeptical of occurring at the state Capitol.

And while Brnovich spokesman Ryan Anderson said the attorney general doesn’t mind if the Legislature refers the question of legalization to voters, it would at least allow for a thorough vetting process and public hearings on the issue. Anderson said a legislative referral doesn’t bypass the Voter Protection Act.

Some have noted that the courts have yet to litigate whether measures referred to the ballot by the Legislature are protected in the same way citizen-led ballot initiatives are protected.

Constitutional law attorney Paul Bender said there’s a simple reason why.

“I’ve always assumed the reason for that is it’s so clear that [the Voter Protection Act] would apply,” Bender said. “It doesn’t really make a difference who puts it on the ballot. The idea of the Voter Protection Act is the voters are supposed to have the last word under the [Arizona] Constitution. So, if they say something, it doesn’t matter how they say it or who asked them to say it … it’s voter protected.”

That means for lawmakers to avoid the act, they’ll need Gov. Doug Ducey’s help.

The governor at least shares Brnovich’s concerns that the Voter Protection Act is a hindrance to fixing “unintended consequences” in laws.

Voter protection doesn’t contemplate that … And, yes, that does concern me,” Ducey told Capitol Media Services in July.

“Of course, I want to protect the will of the voters,” Ducey added. “But I also think we have a legislative process for a reason, and that’s to adjust and improve policy when we can.”

How Ducey feels about a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, let alone legislation, the governor won’t say. Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s chief of staff, tweeted a reminder that Ducey “was a strong opponent of the 2016 measure,” which voters rejected. He’s still opposed to recreational marijuana, Scarpinato added, but before Ducey will comment on ballot measures, “he wants to see the specific language.”

It’s also possible, at least theoretically, that Ducey could allow a legalization bill to become law without signing it. Bills the governor doesn’t sign or veto within a set number of days after session become law automatically.

Matthew Schweich helped facilitate the 2016 campaign in Arizona to legalize recreational marijuana. As deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, he has

had a hand in state-level marijuana campaigns across the country, and he remembers well Ducey’s opposition three years ago.

So it’s difficult for him to believe that Ducey would ever consider signing a bill that legalized marijuana for adult use, Schweich said.

However, like in Vermont, there are circumstances that could persuade Ducey, Schweich said.

“It will really come down to the details of the law,” he said. “If it is a very conservative approach to legalization, then I imagine it’s possible for a conservative governor like Doug Ducey to sign that bill into law.”

On the other hand, if the Legislature were to pass a more comprehensive legalization bill that addressed most of the issues expected to be addressed by a citizen-led ballot initiative – including regulated sales – that could make it less likely that Ducey would sign it.

And even if the governor were to sign a “conservative” form of legalization, Schweich said there’s nothing to stop unsatisfied marijuana advocates from launching their own initiative anyway.

“I think the only scenario in which there’s no ballot initiative is one where a very sensible, well-reasoned legalization policy that is in line with what has been adopted in other states is approved by the Legislature, but that seems unlikely given the conservative leaning of Arizona’s Legislature,” Schweich said.

For instance, Vermont was a case in which a Republican governor who’s not a proponent of marijuana recognized the popular support in favor of legalization, and agreed to let a bill legalizing adult use become law. That’s the best example yet of the political calculation Ducey may consider if the Legislature considers a marijuana bill, Schweich said.

Yet Vermont’s version of legalization would never satisfy Arizona marijuana advocates, Schweich said. Many advocates are medical marijuana dispensary owners who would stand to benefit from sales of recreational marijuana.

Medical marijuana patients claim state sets too high of price for permit

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Calling the fees illegally high, an attorney for medical marijuana patients is asking the Court of Appeals to force state health officials to slash what they charge people to get the state-issued permit they need to buy the drug.

Sean Berberian said Monday that $150 that patients must pay annually is far more than the state Department of Health Services needs to administer the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act which allows people with certain medical conditions to use the drug. He said the 2010 voter-approved law makes it clear that the agency cannot simply bank the proceeds.

Berberian said this is more than an administrative bottleneck. He told Capitol Media Services that all the evidence suggests that both Gov. Doug Ducey and predecessor Jan Brewer both have directed the agency to keep the fees as high as possible to deter patients from getting the drug.

And the attorney also said this isn’t just an academic exercise. He said the fees are a significant hardship for the people he represents.

The new legal filing comes six months after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry rejected similar arguments.

She did not dispute the allegations that the state is collecting far more than it needs. But Gentry said it’s not up to her to force the state to lower its costs.

Berberian said he hopes to prove to the Court of Appeals that her ruling is not legally sound.

What appears not to be in doubt are the numbers.

Figures obtained by Capitol Media Services show the health department collected $24.9 million in fees from patients, caregivers, dispensary owners and growers in the last fiscal year. The expenses in that same period were $11.2 million.

So far this budget year the data show revenues of $6 million against $2.8 million in expenses.

And as of Monday, health officials said the balance in the account is nearly $38.1 million, more than three times as much as needed to administer the program on an annual basis.

That, said Berberian, is illegal.

The 2010 law allows medical marijuana patients to purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of the drug every two weeks from state-regulated dispensaries.

But sales can be made only to those with a state-issued medical marijuana ID card. And that card, which has to be renewed annually, costs $150.

Berberian said Lisa Becker, one of his clients, has suffered for years from a series of ailments. He said doctors gave her four different anti-nausea drugs and opiates to manage her pain.

What medical marijuana has done, he said, is calm her nausea, allowing her to eat solid food without vomiting. But he said that Becker, living on $1,100 a month, has had to either borrow money to pay the $150 annual fee or spend less on medications.

The other plaintiff is Yolanda Daniels who is caregiver for her granddaughter, Mercedes, who has epilepsy.

According to Berberian, the marijuana has reduced the child’s seizures. But to get the drug she has to pay $350 a year — $150 for her granddaughter’s card and another $200 to be a state-licensed caregiver.

The voter-approved law says the total amount of all fees “shall generate revenues sufficient to implement and administer this chapter,” meaning the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

“Instead, what the Department of Health Services has done is set a fee structure and refused to reexamine or revisit that fee structure when it’s quite obvious that the fees that they set are far beyond what is sufficient to implement and administer that chapter,” he said.

Berberian is not alone in reaching that conclusion.

Will Humble, who was health director when the 2010 measure was approved, told Capitol Media Services he set the $150 fee based on anticipated start-up costs and an assumption that only about 25,000 people would qualify.

As it turned out, that estimate was far too low. The latest report shows more than 143,000 people are currently certified by the state to use the drug.

Humble said he was working on a plan to slash the fee when he quit in early 2015 shortly after Ducey’s election.

There has been no apparent movement on the issue by Cara Christ, his successor, since. And state health officials did not respond to inquiries about the decision to leave the fees where they are even in the face of an increasing fund balance.

Berberian has his own theory.

“This is part and parcel of the state’s ongoing effort to try to limit Arizonans from getting access to legal medical marijuana,” he said. “At every turn, the state and our governor has tried to prevent Arizonans from getting access.”

“There have been no efforts from this office to direct ADHS’s operation of this program,” said gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak. He said the fees are simply what they were when Ducey took office in January 2015.

Brewer, who was governor when voters approved the law, did try to stop Humble from licensing any dispensaries at all — effectively making marijuana unavailable to patients — on the premise the state could not permit the sale of a drug that remains illegal under federal law. That argument was rejected by a state judge.

In the lower court ruling in this case, Gentry rejected Berberian’s contention that the requirement to set fees “sufficient” to administer the program precludes the state from charging more. She said there is nothing in the statute that specifically prohibits the health department from taking in more than needed.

More to the point, Gentry said what Berberian wants is for her to reset the fees at a more reasonable level. But the judge said that is a political question beyond the reach of the courts.

“The only way the court could determine what fee meets the sufficient requirements of the Arizona Medical Marijuana At and the Constitution would be to take over the administration of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act from the Department of Health Services,” Gentry wrote. She said that would force the court to set policy decisions on things like staff salaries, operating expenses, enforcement actions and even litigation defense, all of which are things the 2010 law puts in the purview of the health department.

 

Medical marijuana to include extracts and resins, Arizona Supreme Court rules

Illustration of pot blondies with marijuana leaves surrounding the tray of edibles.
Illustration of marijuana edibles with marijuana leaves surrounding the tray.

Marijuana extracts and resin are legal to possess and use under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday, reversing a lower court’s decision.

The case, State of Arizona v. Rodney Christopher Jones, stems from a 2013 arrest in which Rodney Jones, a cardholder, possessed a thimble-sized amount of hashish. Jones, 27, served 30 months in jail. The ruling voids Jones’ conviction and sentence and means people who hold medical marijuana cards can legally use marijuana-laced products such as gummy bears, tinctures, extracts, candies and resins of the plant.

“We hold that the definition of marijuana in [statute] includes resin, and by extension hashish, and that immunizes the use of such marijuana consistent with AMMA,” wrote Vice Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, who authored the opinion on behalf of the court.

The oral arguments held on March 19 came down to what “usable” marijuana is defined as. The court ruled that it declines to adopt an interpretation of marijuana that presents contradictory definitions, and allows dispensaries to sell all parts of the plant.

In the ruling, justices declared that AMMA defines cannabis as “all parts of the plant.”

“The word ‘all,’ one of the most comprehensive words in the English language, means exactly that,” Brutinel said.

He wrote that it is “implausible that voters intended to allow patients” who rely on alternative forms of consumption to only smoke marijuana.

The ruling also states that edibles, extracts, vape pens and other forms of concentrates will be covered under AMMA, but only within the legal limit of 2.5 ounces.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, a staunch opponent of medical marijuana, didn’t take the news that extracts are now legal well.

“The Court’s conclusion that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act protects hashish (legally termed cannabis) is akin to finding that explosives produced from fertilizer are protected by laws allowing the sale of farm products,” she said in a press release.

Polk has problems with “high-potency drugs” being used as medicine and said the potency in edibles compared to the flower is similar to the differences between Advil and morphine. “It’s why the Arizona Court of Appeals found that hashish is susceptible to serious and extensive abuse,” she said.

Last year, the Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that extracts were not covered by AMMA, saying the law voters passed in 2010 only covered for the marijuana flower.

As the case made its way to the Supreme Court, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich pulled out of representing the state, thus putting it in the hands of Polk.

Ryan Anderson, spokesperson for Brnovich, said at the time,  “The last thing Mark Brnovich wants to do is stand in the way of patients getting legitimate medicine.”

The Yavapai County Attorney’s Office stumbled in its oral arguments in March resulting in an immediate halt on prosecuting patients for possession of extracts in Yavapai County.

Bill Hughes, the chief criminal deputy in the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office told Capitol Times in a March 26 email the office would hold off on filing charges in cannabis cases with a few exceptions until the Supreme Court rules.

Several other county attorneys either already halted prosecution or claimed they would wait for the court’s decision, including Maricopa, Pinal and Navajo counties.

American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona attorney Jared Keenan, said the court got the decision right. “It means qualifying patients will no longer have to fear prosecution for using medicine in the form helpful to them,” Keenan said, adding that it’s a shame that Polk was able to undermine the will of the voters for this long.

Keenan noted this was the second time the Supreme Court shot down Polk’s interpretation of the law.

The state’s highest court previously ruled in a 5-0 decision that Polk was no longer able to issue a special “marijuana provision” as she did in the 2015 case State v. Hancock, where a marijuana patient pled guilty to a DUI charge and Polk tacked on as a condition of probation that Jennifer Ferrell would not use marijuana in any form even though she had a state-issued card.  

Keenan said that the governor and Legislature should maybe be more reticent to listen to prosecutors since their interpretations of the law keep getting overruled by the courts.

The courts also shot down attempts by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to prosecute medical marijuana users with extracts, as have courts in Navajo County.

“Hopefully that’s something lawmakers and the governor should start paying attention to and taking what prosecutors are telling them with a grain of salt,” Keenan said.

Most medical marijuana bills go up in smoke; Senate OKs 1

(Deposit Photos/Uros Poteko)
(Deposit Photos/Uros Poteko)

Legislators have introduced a swath of bills aimed at amending the state’s voter-protected Medical Marijuana Act, but getting the necessary votes to pass has proven difficult.

Five of the 14 bills introduced this session made it to the floor for a vote in their original chamber while the rest never received a committee hearing.

Democrats in both chambers introduced bills seeking to decrease the $150 cost to obtain a medical marijuana card, with one House proposal going as low as $15. Others sought to expand the list of qualifying conditions for which people can obtain a card.

Republicans wanted to further define what the Medical Marijuana Fund can be used for, while one measure made it a class 6 felony, punishable by a $10,000 fine, for a listing service to display the contact information for a dispensary without verifying that the dispensary has a registration certificate.

Because the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act was approved by voters in 2010, it’s protected from most legislative efforts to meddle with the law. The act can only be changed by a three-fourths majority vote in the House and Senate and the change must further the law’s intent.

Rep. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City)
Rep. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City)

Of the five measures that made it to the floor – all introduced by Republicans – only SB1420, sponsored by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, obtained the necessary three-fourths majority to get out of the Senate. The bill proposes to give the Department of Agriculture the authority to test marijuana as the agency does other edible crops,

Borrelli’s bill, which was approved by a 27-3 vote, now moves to the House. It has been assigned to the Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee and Appropriations Committee.

Other attempts to amend the voter-protected Medical Marijuana Act have so far failed to clear the House, including three bills sponsored by Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson.

HB2064, which would prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from packaging or labeling products in a manner that is attractive to minors, failed 41-15, three votes shy of the needed 45 votes, but may be reconsidered.

HB2066, which would require the Department of Health Services to use the Medical Marijuana Fund for education, awareness and prevention messaging twice failed on the floor, with the final tally at 35-22.

HB2068, which would prohibit a registered medical marijuana patient from possession or using medical marijuana if they’re on probation or parole, failed 34-22.

A fourth Leach bill, HB2067, which would make it an act of unprofessional conduct for a licensed health professional to knowingly make a false statement in a written medical marijuana certification submitted to DHS passed in the House 35-25 and has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Because the bill did not seek to amend the Medical Marijuana Act it did not need at least 45 votes to pass.

Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese, D-Tucson, said unlike Borrelli’s bill, Leach’s bills didn’t further the intent of the Medical Marijuana Act, and he found them restrictive.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, chairman of the Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee, said he will give Borrelli’s bill a hearing. He added that the bill isn’t anti-medical marijuana and only seeks to improve the program.

“I think Mr. Borrelli’s bill does have a chance because it deals with an area that isn’t opposing medical marijuana, it is merely saying let’s make it as healthy as possibly can be,” he said, adding that he supports the bill.

Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, who worked closely with Borrelli to draft SB1420, said the testing aspect of Borrelli’s bill was popular, even with lawmakers who don’t support medical marijuana. Roughly 80 of the 90 legislators originally signed on as co-sponsors.

The bill, he said, is poised to get the necessary 45 votes to move out of the House and onto the governor’s desk.

(Photo by Luige del Puerto/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photo by Luige del Puerto/Arizona Capitol Times)

Kevin DeMenna, a lobbyist for the Arizona Dispensaries Association, said the association is pleased by the process by which Borrelli worked on the legislation and by the conversation on the Medical Marijuana Act that occurred as a result. That’s why Borrelli found success in the Senate while legislative efforts in the House floundered, DeMenna said.

“It continues to be driven by an inclusive process – stakeholders, meetings, outreach to law enforcement and to the industry, and clearly the comfort level of working in that environment, it distinguishes Senator Borrelli’s process and the bill,” DeMenna said. “The other measures are one off. If we’re going to do this, it needs to be done in a comprehensive way.”

Because of its popularity, Democrats are now looking to use Borrelli’s bill as a vehicle to further amend the Medical Marijuana Act and create a comprehensive medical marijuana legislation.

Friese said he’s hoping to amend SB1420 to include provisions regarding the packaging of medical marijuana products. Borrelli’s bill currently says items shall be dispensed in childproof containers.

In case the provision is not included in the final version of the bill, Friese motioned to reconsider Leach’s packaging bill because it’s something the caucus feels strongly about, he said. It has not yet been placed on the calendar.

“We want to try to use (SB1420) as a comprehensive vehicle, but I didn’t want Mr. Leach’s bill to die completely just in case we can’t get some of those provisions in the other bill,” he said.

Cardenas said Democrats want to add autism spectrum disorder and opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions.

However, some worry that amending the bill will spell doom for Borrelli’s chances of getting SB1420 through the House.

Borrelli said SB1420 may not be a massive, consensus package of marijuana law changes, but it tries to tackle “the low hanging fruit.”

“The things that are obvious, let’s tackle them right now, and tackle other things later,” he said.

DeMenna said his organization will do nothing to amend Borrelli’s bill – the association is pleased with Borrelli’s leadership on the issue and doesn’t want to impede his efforts to get SB1420 approved in the House. But that’s not stopping the group from trying to find another bill to address issues like the cost of ID cards.

“The Arizona Dispensaries Association, working with other major stakeholders, has for months been trying to develop a comprehensive, almost menu like approach to updating the AMA,” DeMenna said.

He said he’s optimistic something can be done this year.

And even if not, there’s value in working out the details now and perhaps addressing it in future legislative sessions, he said.

Ben Giles contributed to this report.

Much not told in ACLU report on criminal justice

opinion-WEB

Arizona’s criminal statutes defining crimes and providing for sentences have worked to protect Arizonans and enhance public safety. Between 2000 and 2016, Arizona’s overall crime rate has fallen 41 percent. Since requiring offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their time for the majority of felonies committed in our state, what is called “truth in sentencing,” Arizona’s overall crime rate has fallen by 58 percent. You would not know that, though, if you only read the ACLU’s “Blueprint for Smart Justice.” You also would not know that 95 percent of Arizona’s inmates are incarcerated for a violent offense, having repeatedly committed felonies, or both.

Bill Montgomery
Bill Montgomery

Simply reading the ACLU’s letter in the Arizona Capitol Times on September 7, 2018, you would not know that for every violent and for the majority of property crimes, there is a crime victim. You would not know that by incarcerating those most responsible for the amount of crime in our community and the violence perpetrated against our fellow citizens saves our society and criminal justice system money by preventing additional crimes and victims. You also would have a vastly skewed understanding of how a felony sentence is imposed.

For 70 percent of the criminal offenses sentenced each year, offenders are sentenced to probation. Those numbers also hold for us in Maricopa County where we additionally offer diversion and deferred prosecution programs for substance abuse and first time felons, something left out of the ACLU Report, as well. In fact, our Felony Pretrial Intervention Program has proven to be of great success. Started in July of 2015, 262 people had completed the program and as of July 2018, only 14 had committed a new felony. That’s a recidivism rate of just 5 percent. Yes, we are expanding that program as a result.

As for the numbers of currently incarcerated drug offenders, the ACLU’s Report and letter continue to push a narrative that ignores the environment in which crime is committed and the criminal histories of those incarcerated. Looking at current statistics, 11.3 percent of those in Arizona’s prisons are incarcerated for drug sales/trafficking. Of that percentage, 24 percent are criminal aliens. With the continuing reality that Arizona is a major thoroughfare for drug smuggling into the United States due to the exploitation of our unsecured southern border by Mexican drug cartels, it is no wonder that we see these numbers. Relatedly, according to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, Arizona has the third highest number of incarcerated criminal aliens behind only Florida and Texas. That helps place into context the percentage of incarcerated Latinos in Arizona prisons. But you wouldn’t know about those numbers or the overall criminal environment if all you read was the ACLU Report or letter of September 7.

With respect to drug possession offenders, and using data from the Department of Corrections for October 2017, 3,775 were incarcerated for drug possession. In the breakdown of the numbers, 235, or .6 percent were incarcerated for marijuana, methamphetamine amounted to 2,469 or 65.4 percent, and other drugs amounted to 1,071 or 28.4 percent. Of the 3,775, 46.5 percent had a violent prior felony offense and over 97 percent had a prior felony conviction. For the percentage without a prior felony, in Maricopa County the typical inmate had been convicted of an offense related to heroin or methamphetamine and refused drug treatment and/or rejected probation, which are almost the exclusive means for going to prison for the first time on a drug offense and only after being given multiple opportunities to succeed.

Having highlighted the gross deficiencies in the ACLU’s Report and September letter, there are significant areas of agreement to address future performance of our state’s criminal justice system. I would like to see a significant reduction in the state’s prison population as a result of reducing recidivism and we have a lot of room to work with here. The most recent DOC monthly report, available at https://corrections.az.gov/reports-documents/reports/corrections-glance, states “[s]eventy-seven percent of inmates assessed at intake have significant substance abuse histories.” Yet only 711 or 1.7 percent receive addiction treatment.

What if we provided substance abuse treatment from the point of admission, and cognitive behavioral treatment? What if we just started with drug possession offenders? Re-entry programs are showing significant promise in reducing recidivism and so are diversion and deferred prosecution programs utilizing substance abuse treatment and cognitive behavioral therapies. We should be implementing similar programs over the duration of an inmate’s incarceration. Then, by reducing recidivism we can manage a steady reduction in the prison population without gambling on public safety, and Arizonans would be able to enjoy parks, educational opportunities, visit our libraries, and take advantage of health services in safety.

Bill Montgomery is the Maricopa County attorney.

___________________________________________________________

The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

National popular vote and other ideas that did not make the cut

By the time this year’s legislative session adjourned sine die, lawmakers passed 395 out of 1,180 bills, memorials and resolutions.

Here are a handful of the roughly 70 percent of ideas that failed.

Ban the box

HB2312, known as the “ban the box” bill, would have prohibited employers from inquiring about or requiring disclosure of applicants’ criminal records.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, sought to level the job search playing field for people with criminal records. Tucson is currently the only city in Arizona that has a “fair chance policy,” according to the National Employment Law Project. That means questions related to convictions on applications have been removed for most positions, although some still require background checks. The House Commerce Committee never heard the bill.

Social Justice

Rep. Bob Thorpe’s HB2120 would have banned K-12 schools and universities from teaching “social justice.” It died after Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who chairs the House Education Committee, refused to hear it.

The bill sought to cut 10 percent of state funding for schools that offer classes that “promote division, resentment or social justice towards a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class or other class of people.”

“Whether they’re talking about it positively or negatively, that’s fine if it ends up on the Daily Show,” Thorpe told The Associated Press in January. “It certainly has opened a dialogue. It’s gotten people talking.”

This was one of a handful of bills that Thorpe had proposed and which proved to be unpopular. He also introduced legislation that would have prohibited college students from using dormitory or other temporary addresses for voter registration purposes.

marijuanaMarijuana committee: puff, puff, perished

Another piece of legislation that went down in smoke was HB2313. Proposed by Democrat Rep. Mark Cardenas, it would have established an 11-member Medical Marijuana Study Committee, which would make recommendations for legislation that furthers the purpose of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

This bill came after Arizonans rejected legalization of recreational marijuana in November last year. It languished in two committees.

Don’t text and drive

Sen. Steve Farley’s SB1086 would have increased the penalty of drivers found guilty of injuring or killing someone because they were texting.

“When you talk to a family who has lost a loved one or someone who was severely injured by a texting driver, you don’t forget that,” said the Tucson Democrat. “It incapacitates you at the same level that drunk driving does. So, to not have something on the books saying this is illegal for everybody is unconscionable.”

Forty-six states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands, have laws prohibiting drivers of all ages from text messaging while driving. Arizona was among four states that did not have some form of texting ban until Gov. Doug Ducey signed SB1080, which prohibits the practice for teenage drivers.

Smoke-free Arizona Act

Lawmakers rejected SB1516, which would have treated tobacco products and electronic cigarettes effectively the same. The bill sought to amend the Smoke-Free Arizona Act by prohibiting the use of vapor products in enclosed public places and workplaces.

Electronic cigarettes are already regulated similarly to other tobacco products. Although Tempe and Coconino County have banned the use of “vapes” in workplaces, bars and restaurants, SB1516 would have extended the ban statewide.

The bill never got out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Committee of Public Safety.

Physician-assisted suicide

In hopes of joining the company of six states that passed Death With Dignity legislation, Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, proposed HB2336 to allow terminally ill patients to request doctors for life-ending medication.

While working for the Arizona Cancer Center, Powers Hannley said she saw late-stage cancer patients struggle, and left without an option to end their suffering.

“I’m sure many of them would have chosen this if it had been an option,” she said.

HB2336 received support from secular and elderly groups across the state, the latter of which surprised Powers Hannley, as she didn’t expect the issue to resonate so strongly with the public.

She said she will reintroduce the legislation in 2018 and hopes to persuade Republican colleagues to give those who are slowly dying an alternative to just waiting.

riot-police-webRacketeering and rioting

Less than a week after the Senate passed SB1142, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said he would not hear the bill, which would have made criminalized the act of helping organize a protest that turned violent.

Proposed by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, SB1142 would have added rioting to the racketeering statutes, and stated an overt act isn’t necessary to prove a conspiracy to riot.

Republican lawmakers insisted the bill was necessary to help cripple efforts of “paid” protesters, “anarchists” and others whose only objective is to cause violent disruptions. Critics said the bill was too broad, and noted that elements of rioting, such as assault and criminal damage, are already crimes punishable by existing laws.

National popular vote

Democrat Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, introduced HB2277, which would have entered Arizona into a contract among states to elect the U.S. president by national popular vote.

HB2277 proposed that states in the contract would apportion all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote for president.

The proposal isn’t new, and the calls for a president elected by national popular vote only got louder after Donald Trump won the Electoral College votes, but lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million.

No card needed for visitors, new residents to use medical marijuana

(Deposit Photos/Uros Poteko)
(Deposit Photos/Uros Poteko)

Out-of-state visitors and new residents may possess and use medical marijuana if recommended by a physician under another state’s laws, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled.

In the opinion issued on March 15, the court upheld the dismissal of an indictment against Stanley Kemmish, Jr., a California resident who was found in possession of marijuana, THC wax and a pipe during a traffic stop. He was charged with one count each of possession of narcotic drugs, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

But Kemmish also had a doctor’s recommendation permitting him to purchase medical marijuana in California, which he showed to officers during the stop. The letter stated that it was the doctor’s “professional opinion, [Kemmish] would significantly benefit from the use of medical marijuana” and “approved the use of cannabis as medicine” in compliance with California’s Compassionate Use Act.

The marijuana in Kemmish’s possession was purchased in California.

He argued the case should be dismissed in Superior Court, which it was, because the letter allowed him to possess the marijuana and THC wax in Arizona.

Under Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act, a non-resident or new resident who has only been in the state for less than 30 days is permitted to use medical marijuana if the patient holds a registry card, or its equivalent, issued under the laws of another state. The act does not permit qualifying patients to obtain marijuana in Arizona.

The state argued “or its equivalent” should only be read to mean other state-issued cards permitting medical marijuana use.

And by holding a physician’s letter as equal to such a card, the state further suggested, the court would be granting non-residents greater rights than Arizonans, which attorneys for the state called “an absurd result.”

“It is illogical to hold that Arizona residents in enacting the [Act]… would have voted to afford residents of California greater protections than what they were voting to grant themselves,” the state argued, according to the court’s opinion.

California’s Compassionate Use Act is broader than the law in Arizona, according to Arizona prosecutors, providing “no safeguards to prevent abuse.”

To support that, the state referred to an argument by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project’s campaign in favor of Arizona’s law: “Unlike California, where it’s possible to get a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana for almost any condition, only patients with a limited number of serious and debilitating conditions… will be able to acquire medical marijuana in Arizona. Patients will also have to register with the state…”

The court rejected the state’s arguments on several grounds.

Judge Paul J. McMurdie wrote that while Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act requires patients to obtain a registry card to legally purchase and use medical marijuana, it did not impose such a requirement on out-of-state patients.

“Under the Act, visitors, and Arizona residents here less than 30 days, may possess and use marijuana purchased under the medical marijuana laws of another state,” he wrote.

And McMurdie repeatedly pointed out that the state agreed Kemmish received a physician’s recommendation according to California law, and that he would have been able to obtain a registry card in Arizona had he applied and paid the fee.

Without that card, he was only entitled to limited immunities to prosecution under Arizona’s law – he could possess marijuana but not purchase it here – and not to any other protections he may have had under California’s act.

McMurdie was joined in his opinion by Presiding Judge Lawrence F. Winthrop and Judge Jennifer B. Campbell.

Open letter to last person in room

Dear Editor:

Congratulations to Sen. Harris!!!

I hope you agree the 2020 election needs to be a landslide of epic proportion. The Biden-Harris victory must be a resounding rejection of the current occupant of the White House and it must be seared in the common memory for all time. Hopefully, such a landslide will have enough down-ballot momentum to carry the Senate & House and governorships and state-houses, too.

ARIZONA is key to the landslide.

You see the case for flipping Arizona in particular: The 2020 AZ election will have a ballot measure for the legalization of marijuana. The organizers of that measure have collected 420,000 petitioner signatures and so many of these people are single issue voters.

You can have all those votes if you change Joe Biden’s position on marijuana – otherwise you are risking Arizona.

I want you to understand where I am coming from.  I’m an old man, twice retired, 22 years in the Navy and another 22 years in public school administration. I have thrown sailors out of the navy for use/possession/distribution of marijuana.  And I have expelled kids from school for having marijuana at school.  Then about 7 years ago some of my former students encouraged me to look into the history of the marijuana laws in this country.  I was horrified to see the racist origins of the American marijuana laws. I was equally horrified to see that the laws were based on lies. And here we are:  an entire large component of US criminal justice system based on lies and racism.  If I can change my mind, Joe Biden can, too.

Please do it – we need than landslide, more than ever in Arizona – but unfortunately the cannabis issue is a divisive one, so please become the uniter-in-chief and show the country that Joe Biden  can change his mind when given new evidence.  WE REALLY NEED A LANDSLIDE

Early voting starts here on October 7th!!! Please get Joe Biden to announce support for Marijuana legalization soon.

John Gleason

Yuma 

Phoenix man starts effort to legalize all drugs

L

A Phoenix resident is seeking a public vote on a proposal to make Arizona the first state in the nation to effectively repeal all drug laws.

And that even includes the ones that make it a crime to sell heroin to children.

Travis VandenBrul contends that all the current drug laws do is make criminals out of people who are simply exercising their personal rights. And he said prior legalization efforts have faltered at the ballot because they didn’t go far enough.

But even VandenBrul acknowledged that knocking down the barriers to the possession, sale and use of all currently illegal drugs may be too much for Arizona voters. So he has an alternate proposal: Eliminate only the laws on marijuana and hashish.

The measures have an uphill fight at best.

A 2016 proposal to regulate and tax marijuana for recreational use drew just 48.7 percent of the vote.

Two years later organizers were back with a more liberal proposal, this one without some of the restrictions on who could sell the drug. But that plan failed to even get enough signatures to make it to the 2018 ballot.

These new initiatives each need 356,467 valid signatures on petitions by July 2, 2020 to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Given the normal validity rate, that makes the actual requirement closer to 440,000.

VandenBrul and Mickey Jones, who is chairman of RAD — Relegalize All Drugs — admit they have no outside money. VandenBrul said he thinks it can make the ballot with volunteers.

But what they may have going for them is a vast change in public sentiment about recreational marijuana since Arizonans voted narrowly in 2010 to legalize the drug for medical use.

Ten states plus the District of Columbia now allow adult use of marijuana for any reason.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that lawmakers in 21 other states looked at the issue just this past year. And earlier this month New York Gov. Mario Cuomo proposed his state legalize recreational marijuana.

Both RAD proposals basically blow the doors off of any type of state oversight.

The first one would put a provision in the Arizona Constitution saying the state government recognizes that drug abuse “is not a criminal problem by a medical problem.”

More to the point, it would prohibit any taxes or regulation of drugs or their use. And it would retroactively erase all prior drug convictions, erase criminal records and grant full pardons to anyone who already has been found or pleaded guilty.

The second one contains virtually identical language, but with its scope limited solely to marijuana and hashish.

VandenBrul defended creating a hands-off approach to the sale and use of drugs.

He said the 2016 measure faltered because it would have limited the number of places where recreational marijuana could be sold. It also would have given first dibs on those sites to the already existing medical marijuana dispensaries.

And he rejected the idea that voters might be more willing to legalize drugs if they saw some benefit, like increased tax revenues. That’s the kind of system that was created in Colorado.

“They still have a booming black market,” VandenBrul said of that state,

“The taxes are so high that the average person really can’t afford it,” he continued, which is why there continues to be street trade.

What that hands-off approach also means is that it would no longer be illegal for minors to purchase or use currently illegal drugs — or even for adults to sell to minors.

VandenBrul acknowledged that would make it legal for someone to stand outside a middle school and peddle drugs to 14-year-old students. But he said that doesn’t bother him.

“They do it anyway,” he argued. And VandenBrul said that this is an issue between children and their parents — and that youngsters “know better” than to buy things like that.

What that also would mean is it would be easier for minors to get marijuana or heroin than it now is for them to get alcohol or tobacco, both of which have age restrictions for purchase.

“Honestly, I would like to get rid of all those regulations,” VandenBrul responded. Anyway, he said, all those regulations have not kept teens from getting beer or cigarettes.

The initiative proposals could end up spurring legislative action.

Prior legalization measures in Arizona have so far failed to gain traction at the Capitol. But there is an increasing sense among some legislators that it would be better for them to craft a plan than to have one imposed through an initiative which, by virtue of voter approval, they would be constitutionally powerless to alter or fix.

Politicians weigh in on ballot measures

This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs settled a lawsuit with the Navajo Nation by adopting an elections procedure that allows counties five days to fix early ballots that don’t match signatures on file or are missing signatures. PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS
This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz.  PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS

If you get your advice from Gov. Doug Ducey you’re going to want to vote against at least three of the four measures expected to be on the November ballot.

The governor has submitted statements in opposition to proposals to legalize recreational uses of marijuana, increase taxes on the wealthy to help fund education, and a third with various provisions relating to hospitals and health care.

But he took no position on a fourth ballot measure to give judges more discretion in sentencing.

On marijuana, the governor called what is expected to be on the ballot as Proposition 207 “a bad idea based on false promises,” saying the experience from other states shows it will lead to more highway deaths, dramatic increases in teen drug use and more newborns exposed to marijuana. Anyway, Ducey said, the current system of medical marijuana, approved by voters in 2010 “is serving the people who need it for health-related reasons.”

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

Ducey is not alone, particularly on the issue of whether Arizonans should be able to legally buy and possess marijuana for personal use. The Secretary of State’s Office got dozens of arguments from foes.

All those arguments will be placed into publicity pamphlets mailed to the homes of all registered voters.

So will the handful of arguments in favor of the measure, including one from former Gov. Fife Symington III.

“Today the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: criminalizing law-abiding citizens who choose to responsibly consume marijuana is an outdated policy that wastes precious government resources and unnecessarily restricts individual liberty,” he wrote. “A far more logical approach would be to respect the right of adults to choose to consume marijuana while regulating and taxing its production and sale.”

He has at least a passing familial interest in the issue: His son, Fife Symington IV, is managing director of Copperstate Farms, which operates what is believed to be the largest medical marijuana cultivation facility in the state. And those already involved in medical marijuana are going to get first crack at the expanded recreational system if voters approve.

The pamphlet actually contains two arguments by Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, one in favor and one against.

Humble told Capitol Media Services his organization sees the issue through a pair of lenses.

On one hand, he said, there are members of his organization who support the idea of “criminal justice reform,” getting rid of state laws that make it a felony to have any amount of marijuana at all.

Will Humble
Will Humble

“But, on the other hand, there is good evidence that these retail marijuana laws increase access to people under 21,” Humble said. “It’s harmful to adolescents.”

He said voters will get to read both perspectives.

“I’m probably going to vote for it,” Humble said, saying there’s no reason to make felons out of people who have small quantities of marijuana. “Even if they don’t do time for it … part of it is going through being arrested, paying the fees for the court, suffering through the criminal justice system, paying for all those classes they make you take.”

On the other side are Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Sheila Polk, her Yavapai County counterpart. The measure also is opposed by Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, whose organization is financing much of the campaign against the initiative.

The proposal to increase income taxes on the state’s top earners, Proposition 210, also drew lots of comments.

Most of the support comes from members of the education community like Joshua Buckley, president of the Mesa Education Association.

“A decade of cuts to education have hit hardest on our state’s most vulnerable population – our children,” he wrote.

And Steve Adams, co-president of the Tempe School Education Association, said the funding is needed to make up for cuts made during the past decade.

“Now is the time for smaller class sizes,” she said. “Now is the time to pay certified teachers a professional salary. Now is the time for all Arizona students to have access to a qualified school nurse, counselor, librarian and support staff who keep them safe and healthy.”

The measure would affect only the top 4% of earners in Arizona, raising the rate only on earnings of more than $250,000 a year for individuals and $500,000 for couples filing jointly. It is billed as raising $940 million a year for K-12 education.

Close-up of child's abacus in classroom.“That’s a whopping amount, especially considering that our economy is recovering from recession and high unemployment,” Ducey wrote. And he said there is no guarantee how much of this actually would wind up in the classroom.

Various business groups also have taken positions against the measure. And state Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said the measure “will result in a huge drag on the overall economy.”

“If we can’t grow the economy, we can’t invest in schools and raise teacher pay,” he argued.

The health care measure, Proposition 208, pulls some of the same interests together in opposition.

It would require a 20% pay hike for hospital workers, impose new infection-control standards on hospitals, provide protections for insured patients against “surprise” medical bills for out-of-network care, and guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions can get affordable health insurance.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called it part of a “radical agenda” by “out-of-state special interests.” That refers to the fact the measure is being financed by a California chapter of Service Employees International Union.

Glenn Hamer
Glenn Hamer

“Dramatically increasing health care costs at a time when the Arizona economy is struggling with double-digit unemployment rate and record jobless claims will devastate hardworking families and delay the state’s economic recovery,” he said.

But it has support from groups ranging from the Arizona Faith Network and Living United for Change in Arizona to Poder Latinx and the Sky Harbor Lodge 2559 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The lone item Ducey has not weighed in on is Proposition 209, designed to partly reverse laws on mandatory prison terms imposed in 1978 and modify the 1993 “truth in sentencing” law that requires criminals to serve at least 85% of their term before being released.

It also would end the ability of prosecutors to “stack” multiple charges committed by someone before arrest to allow them to have the person designed a repeat offender.

State lawmakers actually approved that change last year only to have it vetoed by Ducey because of what he said where “unintended consequences that may raise from this legislation.”

Dawn Penich-Thacker and Beth Lewis, co-founders of Save Our Schools Arizona, argued that the state now spends more on incarcerating people than in state aid to colleges and universities.

“By emphasizing rehabilitation, reintegration training and smarter sentencing, the Second Chances Act addresses the other side of the school-to-prison pipeline that holds back too many Arizona families,” they said.

But Polk, the Yavapai County attorney, said voters should not dismantle the sentencing code.

“It will, once again, allow many very serious and repeat offenders to serve only half of their sentence before being released back on our streets and into our communities,” she said. And Polk said the current laws ensure that people are sentenced based on their crimes and not “who you are, where you live, and who your sentencing judge is will determine your sentence.”

Poll shows considerable support for legalized recreational pot

marijuana-620
The way pollster Mike Noble sees it, unless there’s an extensive and well-financed campaign against it, Arizona is likely to be the next state to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana.

A new survey by OH Predictive Insights released Tuesday finds that more than six out of every 10 residents polled said they definitely intend to vote for the measure headed for the November ballot. Just 32 percent say they’re definitely opposed.

That’s a significant change from when Noble asked the question in December, when the margin of support was 51-42 percent.

Mike Noble
Mike Noble

Noble noted that a similar measure in 2016 failed by about 4 percentage points amid an extensive — and expensive — campaign amid claims that adult access would lead to greater teen use and more accidents. Foes spent $6.1 million at the time, with much of that coming from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

This year, however, the business group may find its hands full and its resources drained by two other high-profile measures it hopes to kill. One would impose a surcharge on incomes above $250,000 for individuals to provide more cash for K-12 schools, the other would mandate pay hikes for hospital workers.

And at this point, the chamber isn’t promising anything.

“We will assess our financial commitment once we know exactly which initiatives will appear on the November ballot,” said spokesman Garrick Taylor. There are legal efforts underway to block votes on both the tax and hospital proposals.

And if those legal challenges fail?

“Our opposition to legalized marijuana is well known,” Taylor said. “But crowded ballots containing important issues make for tough decisions.”

Lisa James, heading Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, won’t say what kind of budget she is counting on for this year’s anti-legalization campaign.

“We expect to have the funds we need to see through a campaign that will resonate with voters,” she said. “And we expect the same result as last time.”

Last time, however, surveys taken both about the same time ahead of the 2016 race and again shortly before the election found a bare majority of registered voters in support. The current picture, Noble said, finds much broader support.

He said that 60-plus percent base of support runs uniformly among urban, suburban and rural voters. Even parents of children say they intend to vote for it, though backing is stronger among those without children.

Women support legalization more than men, with stronger backing among those in the 18-to-54 age group than those who are older. But there is net support among seniors, too.

There is one demographic where opponents outnumber supporters.

“The Republicans are the last outpost on this,” Noble said, with 44 percent in support and 52 percent opposed. He suggested that may be why the Republican-controlled legislature opted not to take up a proposal to deal with the issue — and adopt it in a way that could be amended if there are problems — choosing instead to try to kill the issue at the ballot.

And Noble said that this could prove a losing battle for the GOP.

“It’s coming,” he said of legalization. “It’s only a question of when.”

James acknowledged that similar measures have been approved in 11 other states, including California, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. And she did not dispute that Arizonans who have traveled to those states have been able to experience the ability to walk into a storefront and walk out with marijuana in some form.

That, James said, may provide them a somewhat limited view of the issue.

“They don’t live there,” she said. “They don’t live with it every day.”

James said her message will be to educate Arizonans to the problems she said have developed elsewhere, including an increase in black-market sales of the drugs in California as well as an increase in the number of people in Colorado who say they are driving under the influence of the drug.

“There’s plenty to be shared with voters that they may not be aware of yet,” she said.

Anyway, James said, just because other states have gone that route doesn’t mean Arizonans will follow suit.

“There’s a reason that people live in Arizona,” she said.

“We’ve never been a follower state, we’ve always been a leader state,” James continued. “We’re very independent and I think Arizonans will keep that streak of independence going.”

The survey of 600 likely voters was conducted earlier this month, with about two thirds through live callers and a third through automated responses. It is considered to have a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Prop. 207 a sensible, workable approach to marijuana legalization

Deposit Photo
Deposit Photo

Proposition 207, The Smart and Safe Arizona Act, is a responsible marijuana legalization plan that makes sense to this Arizona conservative.

I am a lifelong Republican, a former prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, and former general counsel for the Arizona Republican Party. As marijuana legalization becomes more and more inevitable, we have an opportunity to get legalization right.

Prop. 207 legalizes marijuana under careful safeguards, and at the same time will increase tax revenues, and generate good paying jobs.

Prop. 207 also provides for stronger penalties for those who use marijuana and drive impaired. The measure also ensures that marijuana is not marketed to children, that edibles are not made to resemble children’s candy, and that levels of THC in edibles are limited to prevent someone from ingesting too much. There’s also a provision that prohibits smoking marijuana in public places.

These are common sense provisions that make sense. 

Prop. 207 comes along at the right time. As the pandemic reduces revenues and increases costs for government, this measure will generate $300 million a year in additional tax revenues.

Timothy La Sota
Timothy La Sota

Money would be targeted toward public safety, community colleges, substance abuse treatment, mental health programs, road and freeway construction, just to name a few. And countess new jobs would be created at a time when they are needed.

As a conservative, I am not a fan of taxes. Prop. 207 is essentially a voluntary tax that could help prevent increases in so-called “involuntary” on income and property.

None of the arguments against marijuana can withstand any serious examination.

The organized opposition to marijuana is generally led by people who have spent their professional life in government. One of the first things they say is that people don’t really go to jail for simple possession. This begs the question of why we need harsh criminal penalties for marijuana possession if they are not used anyway. But even worse, this claim by the critics of marijuana is clearly false.

As a prosecutor, I saw plenty of people prosecuted harshly for these types of offenses. And recently, Arizonan Rodney Jones spent over two years in prison for possession of 0.05 of an ounce of hashish, even though he had a valid medical marijuana card, bought the product from a state-licensed dispensary, and was a non-repetitive “offender”. 

So much for the argument that non-violent, non-repeat possessors of marijuana for personal use don’t go to prison.  And in Mr. Jones’ case, he was not an “offender” at all — he was legally entitled to possess the marijuana, as the Arizona Supreme Court ruled unanimously in overturning his conviction. 

It is no coincidence that one of the most high profile opponents of Proposition 207, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, prosecuted Mr. Jones. Preventing this perversion of justice, perpetrated by the government, is reason enough to vote for Prop. 207. The Supreme Court ruling in favor of Mr. Jones belatedly put an end to an embarrassing episode for Arizona, and I personally never want to see anything like that happen again. Besides, with rising violent crime, law enforcement has better things to do than to prosecute non-violent marijuana users.

Marijuana opponents also regularly trot out “the children” as a reason to vote no. This is largely an appeal to emotion rather than a real argument. As a father of three myself, marijuana is very low on my list of concerns. A much more serious concern are opioids, which are far easier to obtain than marijuana. In fact, it is extraordinarily difficult for a minor to secure marijuana from a legal dispensary. And Prop. 207 contains tough packing and warning label requirements.

Arguments that marijuana would be a problem in the workforce don’t hold any water either. Under Prop. 207, employers and property owners can ban marijuana use at their workplaces or on their property. Drug tests would still be permitted allowing employers to make sure their employees are not impaired, just as such tests are used today for marijuana and other drugs, including alcohol.

Prop. 207 effectively tackles the challenge of implementing legalization in a responsible manner. Legalization is coming one way or another. We have an opportunity to get it right, to end injustices that result from the law’s treatment of simple possession of any amount of marijuana as a felony, and to make sure children are protected and tax dollars are spent wisely. If we miss this opportunity, then more radical elements may push legalization without important safeguards. Or worse yet, politicians and bureaucrats may attempt legalization without consulting voters.

Please vote yes on Prop. 207.

Tim La Sota is an attorney who practices in Phoenix.

Prop. 207 brings expungement for some, why stop there?

Getting finger print for official record

The push to legalize the adult use of marijuana is not new to Arizona and while attempts at decriminalization have failed in the past, this year the effort passed through a ballot initiative of the people, Proposition 207.

While the purpose of Prop. 207 will undoubtedly be the topic of great debate in the future, one of the purposes of Prop. 207 is abundantly clear.

People who consume, possess or transport marijuana for personal use should not bear the overwhelming burden of a felony conviction now, in the past or in the future.

Before Prop. 207, the possession of less than two pounds of marijuana in Arizona was classified as a class 6 felony.

Having a felony conviction on your record in Arizona is devastating and has life-lasting implications.

Steven Scharboneau
Steven Scharboneau

Beyond the prospect of hefty fines and potential prison time, an individual convicted of a felony in Arizona loses a great deal of important and fundamental constitutional rights. Some of these rights include the right to possess a firearm or other deadly weapon, the right to vote, the right to hold public office and the right to sit on a jury. Perhaps the most debilitating thing of all about felony convictions in Arizona is that they literally never go away.

Beyond very narrow exceptions in Arizona law, no matter the circumstances surrounding a felony conviction, there is no mechanism to fully recuperate from such a conviction. Beyond the loss of an individual’s constitutional rights, a felony conviction often makes what should otherwise be a process of growth and fulfillment an unnecessarily arduous and conquering one. That is, the process to secure fundamental and basic necessities such as housing, employment, insurance and many others. Thanks to Prop. 207, Arizona now has its first expungement law and the expungement portion of the law is written in a way that will undoubtedly make a positive impact on all of Arizona.

Beginning July 12, 2021, an individual who was arrested, charged, convicted or otherwise adjudicated of certain enumerated marijuana-related crimes in the new law will be eligible to have their records expunged. What have the people of Arizona decided “expunge” means? Well, it really means at least five things:

(1)  Vacates the judgment of adjudication or conviction.

(2)  Expunges all records of the arrest, charge, conviction, adjudication and sentence.

(3)  Restores all civil rights that were revoked as a result of the conviction.

(4)  Notifies all involved prosecuting and law enforcement agencies of the expungement and requires them to seal all records.

(5)  Requires that the clerk of the court seal all records relating to the expunged arrest, charge, adjudication, conviction or sentence and prohibit access to those records by anyone other than the accused or convicted individual.

The law also seems to give the court very little discretion in granting a request for expungement. Essentially, if you meet all of the requirements, the court must grant the expungement. Also, the law permits eligible individuals to petition the court before the July 12 eligibility date, and our office has already been preparing to get those submitted.

It’s hard to say just how many Arizonans the new expungement law will impact, but it can be said with certainty that this will benefit Arizona as a whole by broadening access to essentials such as jobs and housing. It will drop barriers that stop our neighbors and community members from fulfilling their potential and from chasing their dreams that otherwise may have seemed impossible with a felony conviction on their record. So, why stop here?

We know that people make mistakes and it is becoming universally accepted that with time and hard work, people can recover from those mistakes and change for the better. That said, should we really be holding people back from reaching their full potential because they made a mistake in their past? Should the availability to earn back your reputation and prove that you are not the mistake you made in the past be non-existent? This is where we are at right now as a state and where we have been for far too long. What good do oppressive policies like these do for our state and why do we still have them? We should be incentivizing people to do their absolute best, and what better way to do that than through providing an authentic chance at redemption?

The solution is evident – keep the momentum going and pass a more expansive expungement law in Arizona. My hope is that the Arizona Legislature thinks about these questions, listens to their constituents with the passage of this recent expungement law, and takes the role of forging a path to an attainable end for those who have made mistakes to redeem themselves and become more productive members of society. It’s not only the right thing to do, it is the best thing to do for Arizona.

Steven Scharboneau Jr., is an attorney at Stone Rose Law, and a board member and legislative advocate with Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice.

 

Proposed law would sweep hashish under definition of marijuana

(Deposit Photos/Uros Poteko)
(Deposit Photos/Uros Poteko)

Rep. Tony Rivero wants to change state law to clarify that cannabis is marijuana and protected for medicinal use.

The Peoria Republican’s proposal in HB 2149 would remove the definition of cannabis from Arizona’s criminal code, and sweep that language into the definition of marijuana. That would ensure that cannabis extracts and concentrates, or hashish, are protected as marijuana under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

That clarification would ensure that county prosecutors may no longer charge medical-marijuana cardholders in possession of concentrates with felony possession.

“[The new] definition conflicts with prior law that defines cannabis as criminal,” Rivero said. “The Marijuana Act supersedes the the criminal code and I don’t want it to be used as a tool to force patients who are fighting cancer and other diseases to have to smoke marijuana,” as opposed to using extracts or concentrates.

The measure would have a ripple effect even for those without a medical-marijuana card.

The current definition of cannabis falls under state statute for narcotics, meaning that simple possession of hashish could be prosecuted as a Class 4 felony. By moving the definition of cannabis under the definition of marijuana in criminal code, possession charges for those without a valid medical-marijuana card would be reduced to a Class 6 felony, according to Jared Keenan, a criminal justice attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

“Even under the criminal code, we won’t have this weird difference between hashish and marijuana,” Keenan said.

Rivero’s proposal deals with an issue highlighted by an Arizona Supreme Court case on the legality of medical-marijuana concentrates.

The state Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 that those extracts or concentrates aren’t protected by the AMMA. The Supreme Court later chose to review that decision. The case stems from the conviction of a man in Yavapai County, who was prosecuted for possession of a small amount of hashish even though he was a medical-marijuana cardholder. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk could not be reached for comment.

Keenan said the clarification proposed by Rivero shouldn’t be necessary.

“From our point of view, it shouldn’t have any impact” on the case, he said. “We are arguing that the current definition in the AMMA is broader than the criminal code, and this stuff is already protected.”

However, if justices uphold the Court of Appeals decision, Rivero’s bill would be vital: “Then this could have a big impact, because I think it would clarify that extracts, all of it, qualifies as marijuana,” Keenan said.

Kevin DeMenna, a lobbyist for the Arizona Dispensaries Association, said he appreciates that Rivero is trying to do the right thing for medical-marijuana patients, especially in light of the lawmakers’ past failures to act on marijuana issues legislatively.

But the ADA will remain neutral on the bill, and is focused instead on tweaking industry regulations, as well as another attempt to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2020.

“This is not something the ADA has asked for,” DeMenna said.

Rivero, however, doesn’t think it’s too soon to act.

“As a citizen and a representative, I can no longer allow an old definition that contradicts what the voters [in 2010] wanted,” he said.

The AMMA passed by a razor-thin margin in 2010 with just 50.1 percent of the vote.

In 2016, the vote to legalize recreational marijuana, Proposition 205, failed by roughly 67,000 votes.

Rivero has advocated for criminal justice reform in the past. He was the vice chair of a disbanded ad hoc committee on reforms last summer, and continued to help lead those efforts behind the scenes in 2018.

Recreational marijuana could be available within days

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Arizona adults could be purchasing legal weed for recreational use by the end of the week.

State health officials began accepting applications Tuesday to run some of the more than 120 recreational sites that voters agreed to allow in November to sell marijuana to anyone.

On paper, the state has up to 60 days to review and approve. But agency spokesman Steve Elliott told Capitol Media Services it’s not going to take anywhere near that long.

“Our goal is not to be a barrier,” he said.

So could licenses be in place and sales begin this week?

“We’ll see,” said Elliott.

The process should be fairly simple as the initial batch of retail sales licenses will be going to shops already set up to provide medical marijuana. These are places where the owners and the employees already have been vetted by the state.

But it’s not automatic.

Attorney Ryan Hurley who is with Copperstate Farms, said there are technical issues. For example, those people who are licensed as a “dispensary agent” under the medical marijuana law now need to apply to be a “facility agent.” That means additional paperwork.

Hurley said, though, he sees no reason why legal sales won’t start next week — or even as early as this weekend.

All this is a direct result of passage of Proposition 207. Approved by a 3-2 margin, it allows anyone 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or six plants.

Officially speaking, the law took effect last month after the election results were formally certified. So, as of early December, no adult could be arrested for having an ounce of marijuana or less.

Only thing is, there is not yet a place where Arizonans who do not already have a card as a medical marijuana user can legally purchase it.

That is what will change once the state approves the new recreational licenses, making flowers, edibles and other mixtures as available as a head of lettuce.

Sort of.

It still requires presentation of a state-recognized identification card proving age, though that does not have to be from Arizona.

And, of course, there’s that one-ounce limit.

Still, Hurley acknowledged, there are ways around that latter restriction for those who are so inclined. He said nothing in the law tracks individual sales to the point that one dispensary can find out if another one just sold an ounce of the drug to the same buyer.

“The onus is on the individual,” said Hurley.

And, of course, possession of more than an ounce remains illegal, though anything up to 2 1/2 ounces is a petty offense, subject only to a fine.

The new law creates a fiscal conundrum of sorts for the state’s nearly 300,000 medical marijuana users: Should they keep their state-issued cards?

Most dispensaries are expected to charge the same amount, regardless of whether the drugs are being sold for medical or recreational use.

The new law, however, requires imposition of a 16% excise tax on recreational sales. And assuming a price of $200 an ounce — a figure that could vary widely — that additional fee amounts to $32.

So that makes sales to medical marijuana users cheaper.

But Hurley said it’s not that simple.

Anyone wanting a medical marijuana card first has to get a diagnosis from a doctor that he or she has a condition for which the drug can be recommended. These range from glaucoma and AIDS to severe and chronic pain.

Hurley figures an office visit can set someone back about $150.

Then there’s the requirement for an identification card issued by the state, which carries its own $150 biennial fee.

“I’m guessing most people that have their cards will keep them until they expire,” he said. “Unless you’re a real heavy user, some people will probably not renew them.”

In either case, customers should come armed with cash.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. And banks which are subject to federal regulation have been unwilling to accept credit card transactions from dispensaries.

Taxes aside, there is one other advantage to keeping a medical marijuana card. It allows individuals to purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces every two weeks, versus being limited to possession of no more than an ounce at any one time.

Hurley’s Copperstate Farms which operates the four Sol Flower medical marijuana dispensaries are hoping to be among the first to open their doors to recreational users. He said they submitted their applications on Tuesday.

 

 

Recreational marijuana OK a defining moment

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On Nov. 3, 2020, Arizona residents voted in support of Proposition 207, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, that has been termed “Recreational Marijuana.”

When we think of the term recreation, synonyms like fun, enjoyment, and pleasure come to mind.

However, Smart and Safe is much more profound, going beyond what the term recreational marijuana would suggest by focusing on the repair of community, political, social, and economic issues.

Smart and Safe expands the previously limited legal use of marijuana for severe and specific medical conditions to include all responsible adult use.

The intent was not just to restore civil rights and freedom of choice but more broadly to address major consequences of cannabis prohibition – prison overcrowding with nonviolent offenders, economic and social barriers stemming from a felony conviction, racial and economic disparities in the justice system, friction between our law enforcement and communities, disallowance of a safer alternative to alcohol and tobacco use, and lacking resources for treatment of substance abuse.

William Troutt
William Troutt

In this light, the phrase recreational marijuana use does not seem to do justice to this landmark moment in history and our aspirations. However, when you look deeper at the origins and uses of the word “recreation,” it starts to feel quite appropriate.  The term recreation has its foundation in health and healing.  Its uses have included restoration, curing of a person, recovery from illness, to invigorate and to refresh.  And now with Smart and Safe, industry and activists have found common ground in cannabis to address deep divisions and imbalances between our government, laws, communities, and people, with the promise of re-creation to restore unity, heal inequalities, invigorate economics, and revitalize faith in democracy.

I have been on the front line of this reconciliation in Arizona, first with the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act and now with the 2020 Smart and Safe Arizona Act.  As with many others, my family and my life have been deeply impacted by the war on drugs. Now, I am seeing a path to recovery. It is being built through cooperation, understanding, tolerance, unity, medicine, and recreation. 

I joined a start-up company in 2012, Harvest Health & Recreation.  They asked me to share my knowledge of cannabis culture and botanical medicine, and to serve as an advocate for patients, caregivers, and the communities we serve.  As Harvest’s medical director for the last eight years, I have collaborated with industry leaders, government representatives, business stakeholders, and medical organizations to advance cannabis programs and assist patients and our communities in their quest for safe, informed cannabis access.  Personally, I have witnessed medical success stories, courage, and unity, which have rejuvenated my hope and optimism for the future.  For thousands of years cannabis has been used for food, fuel, fiber, medicine, spirituality/religion, health, and leisure.  And now in Arizona we can appropriately call its use recreation.  I, for one, believe that this expanded access to legal cannabis for responsible adult “recreational” use – by any definition – is healthy for our communities.

Dr. William Troutt is director of medical education for Harvest Health & Recreation.

 

Recreational marijuana won’t limit potency in edibles

marijuana-pot-weed-WEB

A claim by organizers of an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana for adults that it would limit the dosage of THC in edible products is false.

In its initial news release last week, Smart & Safe Arizona said if voters approve the measure in 2020 users would not be able to buy brownies, drinks and other products with more than 10 milligrams per serving of THC at state-regulated stores. That’s the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that creates the “high.”

In fact, the actual language of the initiative spells out that 10 milligram figure actually is a floor, forbidding the state Department of Health Services from setting rules which limit the strength of edibles to less than that amount.

And the proposal, being financed by the marijuana industry, also bars state health officials from prohibiting less than 100 milligrams – 10 doses at the 10 milligram floor – from being sold in a package.

Attorney Roopali Desai, who is working with initiative organizers, acknowledged that 10 milligram figure is the minimum. And she said it does leave state health officials free to set an even higher floor.

“If DHS decides in its discretion it wants to make things more potent, which I doubt they will do, they can always do that,” Desai explained. “But they can’t make it less potent.”

That, however, still leaves the question of why backers of recreational marijuana would want to bar health officials from deciding that 10 milligrams is inappropriate.

“That level, I think, is too high,” said former state Health Director Will Humble. “Most of the literature I’ve seen recommends people starting at much lower doses than 10.”

Humble, now executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, is not alone.

Oregon law spells out that the maximum dose that outlets are allowed to sell is 5 milligrams.

And in Alaska, which has a similar limit, the state Department of Public Health urges people to “be careful when eating and drinking marijuana,” suggesting they “start with a single dose of 5 milligrams of THC or even less.”

In fact several web sites that either work with dispensaries or offer medical advice suggest that beginners start with doses as low as 2.5 milligrams.

“It’s a great ceiling,” Humble said of the 10 milligrams. “It’s a terrible floor.”

At least part of the issue is the difference between smoking marijuana and ingesting it.

The initiative, if approved, would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in its green, leafy form. Concentrates would be limited to just 5 grams, though that does not necessarily translate directly into the potency of the edibles.

Feeling the effects of eating or drinking a marijuana-infused product can take much longer, often an hour or more, versus just a few minutes for someone inhaling the smoke. That means someone does not know whether they have taken the “right” amount for the desired effect for some time, leading to the possibility of taking another dose while waiting for the first to kick in.

Desai said that nothing in the initiative prohibits marijuana outlets from marketing products with smaller doses for those who want to start out small to determine the effects. But she defended putting language in the proposal to forbid the state from forcing them to offer it.

“The industry standard is 10 milligrams per dose, 100 milligrams per package,” she said. “That’s true in Colorado, in Washington, in Nevada.”

Anyway, Desai said, she sees no problem with 10 milligram doses as long as consumers know what they are getting.

“They have the ability to see the labels and the information that they need to make choices for themselves about whether or not they need to take half a dose or a full dose,” she said. Desai said that can mean cutting a marijuana-infused brownie or candy bar in half.

The proposal requires that products be “scored” to allow them to be cut into standard serving sizes. But Desai acknowledged that, with 10 milligrams determined to be the standard size, that requirement does not exist for those who might want only 2.5 or 5 milligrams.

Humble, who as state health chief implemented Arizona’s medical marijuana law after a 2010 public vote, has another major problem with the initiative, what he calls “cartels.”

The initiative pretty much spells out that the licenses to sell recreational marijuana will go to the approximately 130 existing medical marijuana dispensaries.

“They get, in perpetuity, a corner on the market,” Humble said. “I just think its anti-competitive.”

He said he is not suggesting a system like Colorado with an unlimited number of retail stores.

“But I think that restricting it to the current number of medical marijuana dispensaries is really anti-competitive, unfair and just smacks of being a cartel.”

Desai said that word isn’t accurate.

She said a “cartel” suggests a small number of people controlling the market. But in Arizona, she said, the existing licenses are held by perhaps 80 different organizations, some large out-of-state corporations and others she described as “mom and pop” stores.

Desai said organizers saw no need to increase the current number of stores from the existing dispensary outlets. That is based on the 2010 law which allows one new outlet for every 10 pharmacies.

What the limit also does is provide a much larger base of customers to those who have existing licenses.

As of the most recent report there were more than 203,000 Arizonans who had specific medical conditions that entitled them to state-issued cards allowing them to purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. By contrast the state Office of Economic Opportunity estimates there are five million Arizonans who are 21 and would be legally able to buy marijuana, either in leafy or edible form if the initiative is approved.

Desai, however, rejected making those kind of numerical comparisons.

“I think it’s impossible to predict what the use is going to be in saying that every Arizonan is going to use marijuana once you legalize it,” she said.

Scottsdale researcher sues U.S. government over quality of marijuana for studies

Sue Sisley
Sue Sisley

A federally-licensed marijuana researcher is suing the government agency that grants her a license to conduct research.

Dr. Sue Sisley has asked the District of Columbia Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals to compel the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to allow researchers to use cannabis from sources other than the feds, thereby ending the government’s monopoly on manufacturing the plant for studies.

“Simply put, this cannabis is sub-par,” Sisley’s attorney, Shane Pennington, wrote in the complaint filed in court.

Sisley a few months ago completed her research on the effects of marijuana for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but the results have yet to be published. The DEA had approved that study – the first time the agency has done so for this kind of research.

She said her suit, which she filed in June, is finally getting some traction.

“Groups are offering to submit amicus briefs … we are in good shape to succeed here,” she said, adding that her lawyers even took the case pro bono.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, anyone seeking to manufacture and distribute marijuana must apply to the DEA, but Sisley said for almost 50 years, the only legal source of cannabis for research comes from the University of Mississippi, which she has openly complained about before. Sisley said she just wants the DEA to follow through on its pledge to end the cannabis monopoly at Ole Miss.

“When they announced that [pledge], they were announcing other growers they invited applications in to become a DEA Schedule 1 bulk manufacturer,” she said.

Sisley said she applied to be one about three years ago, but her application has just been sitting there, even though the DEA accepted her application fee.

“My attorneys think it’s unlawful and maybe even unconstitutional,” Sisley said.

She noted that Congress amended the Controlled Substances Act to require the U.S. Attorney General to publish a notice of application no later than 90 days upon receiving an application to manufacture a Schedule I drug, and argued that the DEA is violating the law. But she doesn’t even blame the DEA, speculating that it goes much higher than them.

“We are also suing the Attorney General, not just the DEA because my gut tells me that the DEA is not responsible for impeding this,” she said.

Sisley also said that her research company, Scottsdale Research Institute, has a “great relationship with the DEA.”

“The local office here has been wonderful to work with. They’re very supportive of our work and I’ve never gotten the impression they were ever trying to block anything,” Sisley said.

It’s the national office that has to deal with federal politics, she said.

Sisley said she is not even asking the DEA to accept her application, just to process it, which she believes would open up processing for the other 30 or so applications also sitting there.

She argued that the cannabis Mississippi uses is “suboptimal.”

“Scientists need access to options and we are handcuffed by a government-enforced monopoly that has only allowed me to study this really suboptimal study drug from Mississippi,” she said, claiming the drug provided for studies is moldy, and contains sticks and seeds.

“They are providing this standardized green powder that is just cannabis ground up,” she said, adding that it also is not being tested like it should.

She says by grinding it up into this powder substance is an “overzealous effort to standardize the study drug batches for clinical trials” and the most optimal substance would just be the marijuana flower.

But right now, Sisley says the efficacy research has been systematically impeded by the government ever since the monopoly was put in place and that it’s the final barrier to cannabis research.

“If we don’t end this monopoly and license other growers, we will continue to see cannabis research sabotaged by this low quality study drug, and we will never be able to do real world studies,” Sisley said.

State approves experimental payment system for pot dispensaries

M

The state’s top prosecutor has approved an experimental program designed to get marijuana dispensaries out of the business of having to pay their bills with suitcases and sacks full of cash.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich agreed to allow Alta to form what the company calls a “digital payment club,” with the eye specifically on marketing its service to the marijuana industry, which has no legal access to banks. Put simply, the system allows dispensaries and others in the marijuana business to convert their cash to a digital “token” and use those to pay suppliers and others willing to accept them.

And one of the first customers they hope to have is the state Department of Revenue, eliminating the current need for dispensary owners literally having to drag cash to a state office to pay their tax bills and have it counted out there.

The reason Brnovich is involved is that Alta will not be licensed by the state, at least not now.

Instead, Brnovich is using powers given to him by the Legislature to authorize exemptions from various financial laws, ranging from consumer lending to money transfer, through a “sandbox” program for companies to try out new or unusual financial programs in Arizona. Aide Ryan Anderson said what Alta is doing meets the test.

Alta owners have up to two years to prove out whether the program works, with limits in the interim on how much cash they can handle. By that time the company either needs to get a regular state license and be subject to state oversight or go out of business.

But Sarah Wessel, the company’s cofounder, said she believes that there is a need. More to the point, Wessel thinks that both marijuana dispensaries and the folks that do business with them would be willing to pay some percentage of the transaction to Alta to avoid handling all that cash.

And there’s a lot of it, according to Tim Sultan, executive director of the Arizona Dispensaries Association.

“We’d like to see a solution to this cash management problem,” he told Capitol Media Services.

“There’s just too much cash in the industry because banks can’t do business with us,” Sultan explained. “We have dispensary owners paying their employees with cash, paying their vendors, paying their electric bills, going to APS with thousands of dollars, paying their taxes with tens of thousands of dollars cash, and just feeling really nervous walking up there with a bag full of cash.”

The cash problem traces its roots to the fact that while the sale of marijuana is legal in Arizona and many other states, possession and sale remains a felony under federal law. And federally regulated banks are barred from doing business with criminal enterprises.

That also locks the industry out of using credit cards.

Congress is considering the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act. While it technically would not overturn the ban on dealing with what the federal government considers criminals, it would prevent federal banking regulators from punishing banks for working with cannabis-related industries that are legal under the laws of the state where they operate.

For the moment, though, it remains a cash business. That’s where Wessel said Alta hopes to fit in and find a profitable niche.

Nothing would affect customers who would still be expected to pay cash.

What would be different is that dispensaries that join Alta would have their cash picked up by an armored car company. More to the point, their accounts would be credited with those Alta tokens, one dollar equal to one token.

And unlike bitcoins, they would have a fixed value.

“They can pay whoever they’re paying cash now on our system,” Wessel explained, whether taxes, utilities, payroll or even other dispensaries. Then the merchants who get the tokens can cash them in online for actual dollars credited to their accounts.

Anderson said that his agency’s approval of the model has some built-in protections.

First, he said, is that Alta remains subject to the state’s Consumer Fraud Act which gives the Attorney General’s Office powers to protect people from financial crimes. But he also said that, in giving the go-ahead to Alta, the company had to provide access to the company’s books and bank accounts, meaning that the state will be able to monitor whether there is the cash available to pay off the tokens.

The system is built under the presumption that both the dispensaries and those who are their suppliers are willing to let Alta keep some percentage of the transaction as a convenience fee.

Wessel declined to spell out the cost, saying it would depend on the classification of the business. But she figured that, on average, the transaction might take only about a third of the 3 percent fee that a credit card company charges.

She acknowledged, though, that there is a key desire to ensure that the state Department of Revenue will join the system. And Wessel said that Alta would waive any fees for that agency in order to make that happen.

But Jesse Forrest, the company’s other cofounder, said he believes that both dispensaries and suppliers will see the advantage of using this payment system, even with any fees, instead of remaining on a cash-only basis.

Consider, he said, a marijuana cultivator who does $30 million worth of business every year with a dispensary. It starts with the added cost of employees to count and keep track of the cash.

Then there’s the cost of an armored car to pick up the day’s receipts, Forrest said, running about $2,500 per stop.

“Plus we’ve got employee skimmage, we’ve got the risk of just being outright robbed, you’ve got to buy a safe, I’ve got to buy a safe, somebody’s got to count it, it’s probably not getting recorded into the books,” he said.

Sultan said the dispensaries agree with the conclusion that a fee-based payment system would still be cheaper in the long run than continuing to operate on an all-cash basis.

Supreme Court lets lower-court ruling on marijuana sales to stand

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The Arizona Supreme Court won’t allow state and local officials to hide behind federal drug laws to throw roadblocks in the path of those who want to sell marijuana.

Without comment, the justices on Tuesday refused to review, much less overturn, a Court of Appeals ruling rejecting arguments that federal law trumps the 2010 voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. The lower court said the fact that marijuana remains a felony under federal law does not preempt the state from deciding to decriminalize it for some.

That same ruling also specifically rebuffed contentions that having county officials issue the zoning permits required for dispensaries would mean they were illegally aiding and abetting in the violation of federal law.

In reaching that conclusion, the Court of Appeals pointed out that nothing in Arizona law — or in their ruling — protects dispensary operators or even medical marijuana users from being pursued and prosecuted by federal authorities under federal law.

But attorney Steven White who represented the dispensary that argued the case, said that, for all intents and purposes, that can’t happen — at least not now.

He pointed out that a provision in the budget, first inserted in 2015, precludes the U.S. Department of Justice from using any of its funds to prosecute providers of medical marijuana if they are complying with state laws. That provision was just renewed.

That extension, however, runs only through Dec. 8, meaning Congress will need to vote again if they want to keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his staffers in check.

Montgomery
Bill Montgomery

The decision by the Supreme Court drew a slap from Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery who had sought to use the federal law to not only block new dispensaries but effectively void the decision by voters to legalize the drug for medical use.

“It represents the latest failure of every level of the judicial branch in Arizona, from the trial court to the Court of Appeals to the highest state court of review, to fulfill their respective oaths of office,” he told Capitol Media Services.

The 2010 law allows those with a doctor’s recommendation and a state-issued ID card to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. The law also set up a network of state-regulated privately run dispensaries to sell the drug.

Before issuing a permit for a dispensary, though, state health officials need certification from the local government that the site is properly zoned. White Mountain Health, seeking to locate in Sun City, which is unincorporated, sought the necessary certification from the county.

Montgomery, however, instructed county officials not to respond. He argued that doing so would make them guilty of violating federal laws which prohibit not only the possession and sale of marijuana but doing anything to facilitate either.

Most significant, he contended that anything the state enacts cannot preempt federal law. Montgomery said the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution makes federal laws supreme and says “the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

But Judge Donn Kessler, writing for the appellate court last year, said nothing in the federal Controlled Substances Act actually prohibits states from having their own drug laws.

Anyway, the judge said, the fact that Arizona has chosen to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana simply immunizes those involved from being prosecuted under Arizona law. He said there is no conflict with federal law because nothing that Arizona does precludes the federal government, if it wants, from enforcing its own laws.

“The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act does not otherwise purport to shield anyone or any act from federal prosecution,” Kessler wrote.

Nor was Kessler persuaded by that claim that county officials would be “aiding and abetting” those violating federal drug laws. He said county officials were not promoting the sale of marijuana but instead dealing with a simple zoning matter.

And Kessler said that budget provision limiting the Department of Justice from prosecuting people in compliance with their own state’s medical marijuana laws undermines Montgomery’s contention that state or county officials could find themselves prosecuted under federal law.

None of that convinced Montgomery that Arizona voters were ever free in the first place to legalize medical marijuana, saying that trial court acknowledged the conflict between federal law and what voters enacted.

“Accordingly, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act should have been held unconstitutional without regard for the method in which it passed into law,” he said. “Unfortunately, the court’s abdication of its duty leaves Maricopa County residents, who have consistently voted against legalizing any access to marijuana whether medicinal or recreational, at the mercy of the policy choices of the federal government.”

But while it’s true that voters in Maricopa County — and, in fact, in 12 others — opposed the 2010 initiative legalizing marijuana for medical use, there was strong enough support in Pima and Coconino counties to have the measure approved on a statewide basis.

 

Teens hear all the wrong messages on Marijuana

opinion-WEB

News coverage of the recently released Arizona Youth Survey focused on the alarming increase in vaping by the state’s teens. But that wasn’t the only bad news in the survey of nearly 49,000 eighth, tenth and twelfth graders.

Merilee Fowler
Merilee Fowler

The number of teens who said they regularly use marijuana jumped by nearly a third since the 2016 report. And nearly one in three students said they’ve tried marijuana, a 5-percentage-point increase in just two years.

Nearly one-fourth said they had tried highly potent concentrates. One in six said they’d ridden in a car with someone who used pot.

One-fourth of those who use pot regularly said they got it from a medical-marijuana card holder, and another 11 percent said they bought it at a dispensary.

While I’m glad legislators are acting to keep the highly addictive nicotine in e-cigarettes out of teens’ hands, I wish there was the same public response to the rising use of marijuana among teens. Instead, the marijuana industry has been allowed to promote a portrait of pot as medicine, safer than alcohol, a cure to the opioid crisis, a godsend for the elderly (never mind that most Arizona medical card holders are men under 30).

Teens hear this message. They hear that vaping is safer than smoking and flock to it. They hear that marijuana is harmless and use it at record rates.

This needs to change.

You’d expect me to say this. I work every day to keep kids drug free. But what if a former investigative reporter for The New York Times says the same thing? That’s what Alex Berenson warns in his new book, “Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence.”

The scientific literature has turned remarkably against marijuana even while legalization madness has spread across the country. As Berenson notes, the National Academy of Medicine reported in 2017 that “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.”

This is in part because marijuana is so much stronger than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, THC content was generally 5 percent or less. Today, leafy marijuana averages 25 percent THC, and extracts are nearly pure THC. It’s the difference between taking a few sips of beer and downing a bottle of whiskey.

Other studies have shown that teens’ still-developing brains are at greater risk of developing psychoses with regular marijuana use.

Berenson points out that the first four states to legalize marijuana have seen sharp increases in murders and aggravated assaults since 2014 – far higher than the rest of the nation. So much for marijuana mellowing the population.

Marijuana is a dangerous, mind-altering drug. In today’s highly potent forms, it poses risks to adults and children, but the risks are far greater for teens. Let’s no longer let the pot profiteers fill our children’s brains with dangerous messages. It’s time to make sure the truth is told, so the next youth survey doesn’t give us even more to be alarmed about.

— Merilee Fowler is executive director of MATFORCE, a Yavapai County nonprofit striving to eliminate substance abuse. Contact her at [email protected].

The Breakdown, Episode 9: Surprise, surprise

 

Republican candidate and former Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko celebrates with her husband, Joe, after voting results show her victory in a special primary election for the Congressional District 8 seat during a campaign party at Lesko's home on Feb. 27, 2018, in Glendale. Former Gov. Jan Brewer watches. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
Republican candidate and former Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko celebrates with her husband, Joe, after voting results show her victory in a special primary election for the Congressional District 8 seat. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

The special primary election in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District was decided last night, and the result was surprising to some politicos.

But a surprise in the general election – a Democratic winner – remains highly unlikely.

Democrats in the Legislature are hoping to prompt a surprise of their own. They’re trying to force a dialogue around gun reform following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives. But their Republican colleagues are resisting changes related to guns as well as medical marijuana.

And Gov. Doug Ducey has been asked to commute a former Phoenix police officer’s prison sentence. A decision by Ducey to follow the recommendation of the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency would not only be unusual from this governor, but he’d be stepping into a controversial case centered around the officer-involved shooting of an unarmed man.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.

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Music in this episode included “Little Idea” and “Enigmatic” by Bensound.

The Breakdown: Fun with funds

 

money walletAffordable housing advocates scored a win this legislative session after lawmakers voted to reverse a decade-long trend of capping the state Housing Trust Fund’s budget.

Now, the people who fought for the funding increase will have to figure out how to best stretch the new dollars and prepare their case for even more.

And the state Department of Health Services has been accused of misspending money from the Medical Marijuana Fund among other unflattering findings from state auditors.

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Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

The Breakdown: High stakes

Deposit Photo

Marijuana advocates are launching a new effort to legalize the drug. What’s changed since 2016?

A new report says the man in charge of the state’s prisons was “surprisingly uninformed” about broken locks that allowed inmates to harm other inmates and correctional officers

And the fired Senate Democratic staffer who won a $1 million discrimination lawsuit was back in court, asking for more damages and her job back.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.

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Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

The Breakdown: In other news

 

in-other-newsYavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk has been targeting medical marijuana patients using extracts – until recently anyway. We’ll actually have that story for you this week.

One representative wants to make sure legislative candidates are actually residents of the districts they want to serve.

And, of course, we’ll have the latest on the ever-developing saga of former Rep. David Stringer. What did we learn from hundreds of pages of additional documents last week?

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.

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Music in this episode included “Creative Minds” and “Energy” by Bensound.