The State of Legal Marijuana by This 4/20: Getting Better All the Time

The State of Legal Marijuana by This 4/20: Getting Better All the Time
Wam, bam, Amsterdam? That’s so 2000s. True, the legendary Dutch coffee shop model, where marijuana is on the menu and consumption is allowed, has not yet arrived. But these days, American-style capitalism has made the Netherlands look stodgy.

Two-thirds of states have made marijuana legal at least for medicinal purposes. Of those, 10 states plus Washington, D.C., have allowed marijuana freedom to ring for adults 21 and older. Enthusiasm for legal pot has never been higher. (Probably, the phrase “never been higher” has never been used more in the media). A Quinnipiac University poll released last month showed that 60 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized for adults. An impressive 93 percent of Americans said in the survey they support medical marijuana.

The news from Capitol Hill also seems encouraging. Congress is debating the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, (known as the STATES Act), which would change the dreaded Controlled Substances Act to prevent federal authorities — permanently — from interfering with states’ rights on cannabis issues.

While giving testimony to Congress on April 10 on a wide range of issues, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said he’d prefer to see something like the STATES Act pass than allow the current situation of people “just ignoring the enforcement of federal law.” Trump has previously said he’d sign such a bill.

Not everything is rosy, of course.

Here in Arizona, caution is still warranted. The medical program includes about 120 dispensaries and more than 193,000 patients who are legally allowed to purchase and possess marijuana products. But felony statutes remain in force for nonpatients, or patients who flout the rules. Even a seed or a half-dab’s worth of shatter is enough to get a nonmedical user arrested. In Maricopa County, that would likely mean “forced” interment in a TASC drug-treatment program, where your fees will help fund prosecutors to do the same thing to someone else.

Especially problematic: marijuana resin extracts, a.k.a. concentrates. They may or may not be covered under the medical marijuana law. The Arizona Supreme Court is currently hashing this one out. During a hearing on the matter last month at Arizona State University’s downtown campus, justices asked questions that were generally considered favorable to the appeal by Rodney Christopher Jones, the cardholding patient who spent two years in prison after being caught in Yavapai County with a tiny amount of hashish.

A decision by the court could come any day now. Needless to say, if concentrates were banned in Arizona, it would be a pot-tastrophe for both patients, dispensaries, and cannabis-oriented businesses. For now, it’s best not to think about it.

Focus instead on the possibility that Arizona could have an adult-use, or recreational, marijuana law in another year. Also last month, Steve White, president of the Arizona Dispensary Association and CEO of Harvest dispensaries, announced that dispensaries would create and fund a campaign to put a citizen initiative for legalization on the 2020 ballot.

The group has hired Strategy 360 to get the job done, the same company that ran a successful bid to legalize in Alaska — another red state, like Arizona. The dispensaries have enough money and desire to outspend anyone, certainly.

What’s not certain is whether Arizonans will approve a rec law they don’t like. The measure on the ballot in 2016, Prop 205, failed by less than 3 percentage points. Polls show the next one might have a better chance, but for now, its chances are unknown because the ADA hasn’t released details about its plan.

If voters like the plan, and with a bit of luck, in a couple of years the 4/20 celebration will elevate to a whole new level.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern