Dozens of cannabis supporters rallied at the Arizona State Capitol today in an effort to bring their message to lawmakers.
Pro-marijuana activists with Safer Arizona and other groups held signs and chatted with reporters and legislators about their goal to end pot prohibition in the state.
Various other organizations promoted themselves at the Capitol on Monday, the first day of the new Legislative session. The cannabis demonstration follows several noteworthy developments in the Arizona pot field:
* Monday's demonstrators support the 2016 ballot initiative planned by the Marijuana Policy Project, and a bill introduced for this Legislative session by State Representative Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, both of which would legalize marijuana through a system of regulated retail sales.
Cardenas believes his bill is a long shot, but he and some lawmakers think it preferable to have the Legislature pass a legalization bill that could be tinkered with as needed. If voters pass an initiative, it would take a 3/4 majority of lawmakers to change it -- and even then, only changes that strengthen the law would be allowed.
As the New Times was the first to report last month, a Legislative analysis showed Arizona could gain $48 million yearly in new revenue simply by taxing the people who already use marijuana.
Cardenas has also floated another bill that failed last year -- this one, HB 2006, would decriminalize marijuana so it's no longer a felony. Now, anyone busted for any amount of marijuana in Arizona is typically booked into jail on a felony charge.
Mikel Weisser of Safer Arizona says he talked to about a dozen lawmakers today, plus a couple of local city councilman. His group has been trying to get municipalities to declare that suspected marijuana offenses are their police department's lowest priority calls.
* Arizona's medical-marijuana users purchased more than 10 tons of cannabis and related products in 2014, according to information obtained by New Times from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
* Two Arizona Republic opinion writers, Linda Valdez and Robert Leger, "debate" marijuana legalization in a column published today. Leger takes the side that marijuana is really bad and shouldn't be legalized. Valdez takes the side that marijuana is really bad but should be legalized because prohibition hasn't worked. The liberal writer, taking the "pro" legalization side, suggests some of the tax revenue from legalized pot goes to anti-drug signs on school buses that say, "Are you stoned or just stupid?"
Finding a true "pro" legalization voice at the Republic is probably tough, since its parent company, Gannett Corporation, believes in pre-employment urine screening for marijuana.
* A spokeswoman with the Kingman Police Department tells New Times that a news release it put out last week should not have said an anti-drug enforcement group "sponsored" a presentation by Sheila Polk and Matforce on Friday.
Legalization supporters alerted us to the news release, which ran in a northern Arizona newspaper, advertising the anti-marijuana-legalization presentation held on Friday in the auditorium of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors. The release said the Mohave Area General Narcotics Enforcement Team, (which is funded with tax dollars), would sponsor the presentation. If that were true, it could have been a violation of an Arizona law that prevents public funds from being used from campaigning.
However, Kingman PD, which serves as financial manager for MAGNET, later said no government money or employees' time went into the presentation. MAGNET only helped organize the presentation, spokeswoman Jennifer Sochocki said.
Steven Moss, chairman of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, told New Times that any group that wants to use the auditorium for a presentation could do so.
We think this will bear watching in the future, though. As Matforce claims repeatedly, it's going to be outspent for the 2016 ballot initiative. No doubt, they'll be angling to have the public help fund their message, as much as they can.
Sochocki said that Kingman PD has an official stance on the 2016 ballot initiative: Marijuana legalization would have "negative" consequences. However, Sochocki admitted that in tailoring that position statement, the police department didn't take into account the negative consequences of being arrested for marijuana possession.
* Maybe you've heard this already, but a group has filed paperwork with the state for a 2016 ballot initiative that would legalize industrial hemp in Arizona. Like MPP's legalization proposal, the hemp initiative would require supporters to collect tens of thousands of signatures from qualified voters before it could go on the ballot. The bill is supported by the Arizona Farm Bureau.
Weisser says two lawmakers are working on hemp bills they expect to introduce soon.
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Hemp is the marijuana that George Washington knew, a fibrous weed with a million and one uses -- except it won't get you high. A farm bill signed into law in 2013 by President Obama makes it legal for states to research hemp, but it's not legal in Arizona. Yet.
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