Arizona's Week in Weed: 'High Times' Urges Yes Vote in AZ; New Stats on Colorado Teens

From the tons sold in legal medical-marijuana dispensaries to the tons imported each year from Mexico, Arizona knows its cannabis. Here's a roundup of last week's biggest pot news stories that affect the Grand Canyon State...

High Times Magazine Endorses AZ's Legalization Measure
The venerable High Times magazine published an op-ed last week urging a "yes" vote on Arizona's legalization initiative and slamming a competing legalization group's "vote no" message as misguided.

As Phoenix New Times readers know, Arizonans for Mindful Regulation — the competing group — pulled the plug on its campaign before the July 7 deadline to turn in petition signatures, angering volunteers. With its more-permissive measure put on ice, AZFMR leader Jason Medar and some of his followers launched an effort to defeat the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona, which is now the only legalization measure likely to appear on November's ballot.

The CRMLA's backers, including the national Marijuana Policy Project and local medical-marijuana dispensaries that will benefit from the bill, are widely expected to turn in more than enough valid signatures to make the ballot. If voters approve it, Arizona would have a legalization system similar to Colorado's, albeit more limited. Anyone 21 and older would be free to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, six live plants, or five grams of concentrates. About 150 retail stores throughout the state would sell cannabis products.

But if AZFMR is successful, zero-tolerance felony prohibition will remain the law of the land, at least until the next election cycle. Currently, anyone caught in Arizona with the slightest bit of marijuana is taken to jail and faces a potential felony charge.

High Times writer Jon Gettman nails the most important issues here perfectly, writing that the MPP bill may not be your favorite, and it may have flaws, but a defeat would amount to "joining forces with police and prosecutors" who want cannabis users in drug treatment or jail.

"A common concern in the politics of social change has always been whether the perfect becomes the enemy of the good," Gettman writes. "Indeed, the reasoning of holding out for the best public policy would have worked against every marijuana reform enacted over the [past] four-plus decades. Every marijuana legalization measure, both passed and proposed, has flaws."

Gettman points out that while AZFMR argued that the CRMLA "unduly favors marijuana vendors by limiting the number of retail outlets," the limits are a "political calculation" designed to get Arizona voters to actually pass the thing.

"This is an issue for Arizona voters to decide, but more is at stake here than how many legal marijuana stores are allowed in the state," Gettman writes. "A victory for legalization in Arizona would add momentum to legalization efforts nationwide. A defeat would breathe new life into the opposition and further encourage prohibition supporters to embrace a divide and conquer strategy to thwart further progress for legalization."

If he's correct about that last part, then AZFMR supporters are wrong if they believe that by defeating the CRMLA in 2016, voters are more — rather than less — likely to approve a more liberal bill in 2018.

Study on Colorado Teen Pot Use Destroys Prohibitionists' Key Talking Point
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment released a report last week indicating that use of cannabis by the state's teens is below average and hasn't risen since legalization.

It's important finding for Arizona voters, who are likely to see a cannabis-legalization measure on the ballot this November and want to know how easing felony prohibition may affect Arizona's youth.

Teen use of cannabis in Arizona has actually fallen since voters approved the state's Medical Marijuana Act in 2010, as New Times has reported. But would the same thing happen if voters approve a recreational-marijuana measure? The new Colorado survey shows it's possible.

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The survey destroys a key argument of Sheila Polk and those who want marijuana to remain a felony in Arizona. Polk's group, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, has harped on federal statistics released in December that showed Colorado now has the highest marijuana use among teenagers in the nation. (ARDP ignored the part of the study that said the apparent increase in teen use wasn't statistically significant.)

The new Colorado report surveyed 17,000 high school students, compared to about 1,500 responses collected from 12-to-17-year-old teens in the federal study conducted in December. An even more interesting difference: The new study looked at responses in 2015, a full year after hundreds of retail cannabis stores opened in Colorado, while the federal study looked at years 2013 and 2014. 

Watch Sheila Polk Pander to Yavapai County Voters in Marijuana-Legalization Debate Video
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk continues to use her time to lobby against marijuana freedom, as evidenced by a video of a recent legalization debate.

Polk, with fellow pot-prohibitionist Merilee Fowler of Matforce, shares a stage with marijuana advocate Jesse Dowling in a Sedona event hosted by the political group Concerned Citizens 4 America.

The 100-minute video features Polk offering a presentation similar to those she has done in the past, focusing on kids accidentally eating cannabis products and scientific studies that show potential health problems for cannabis users.

But Polk lets at least one seemingly pro-legalization comment slip out during her talk, noting that legalization would bring a "massive new industry to Arizona." While she followed that statement with supposed flaws of this new industry, residents of a state that registers below average on most economic indicators probably should take notice of the potential fiscal benefits. A recent study by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation claimed that Arizona could reap $113 million a year from taxes on this new industry if voters approve legalization in November.

Dowling doesn't have Polk's public-speaking fluency. But he holds his own and makes several pointed comments on the absurdities that felony marijuana prohibition creates, such as an alleged police practice of pulling over someone who's driving "perfectly," on the theory that the person must be high.

Watch the Sedona debate below:

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