Marijuana, a.k.a. cannabis, has never been a bigger news story in Arizona than it is these days. The state continued to set records with its burly medical marijuana program now, nearly a decade after voters approved it. The next year is bound to be even bigger. But the year also included some high anxiety. Here's a look back at the year in pot:
This was the story that medical marijuana patients, and indeed, the whole state industry, had been waiting for. Following a declaration in June 2018 by the state Court of Appeals that concentrates including popular products like oil for vape pens, shatter, and most edible cannabis, were illegal, in late May the state Supreme Court settled the issue in a 7-0 vote. Now, it's all good again.
One of the biggest stories of the year in cannabis and nicotine vaping was the disturbing trend of severe lung impairment by hundreds of vape users. More than 2,500 people were hospitalized over the year after a widely publicized outbreak of vaping-related illnesses in June, including nearly 20 in Arizona. More than 50 people died nationwide. One culprit was found: Vitamin E, which may be good for your skin, but when heated and inhaled can act like a WWI battlefield gas on the lungs. Yet even as the number of patients dwindled by year's end, scientists still don't know the cause of all the cases.
It's now very likely that an adult-use marijuana law will be on the Arizona ballot in November 2020. The dispensary industry launched in March what is now known as the Smart and Safe Arizona Act. If its backers collect enough signatures and voters approve it, Arizonans 21 and over could possess up to one ounce of marijuana, of which five grams could be concentrates, and adults could grow up to six plants in their homes.
Read about the details here. How are you going to vote?
Soon after details of the rec initiative were revealed, a group consisting of growers, manufacturers, dispensary owners, bankers, doctors, and others formed their own group, with their own ideas about the best way to make legalization happen. The group will try to convince lawmakers to see things their way. May the best bill win.
Before the above-mentioned state Supreme Court victory on concentrates, some weird shit was going on. One of those foibles included the arrest and jailing of a Phoenix-area medical marijuana patient for a vape pen. A state trooper took Noah Blackwell to jail for the allegedly illegal vape pen and for a legal gun he had in the car, since carrying a gun and illegal drugs is, well, illegal. But it turned out neither was illegal for Blackwell, and he avoided prosecution.
Governor Doug Ducey made life easier, and better, for marijuana patients in 2019 by signing SB 1494, a law that had multiple effects. Two of its features dealt with patient cards. The first extended the cards' validity from one to two years, effectively halving their cost. The second made cards digital, a process that went online in December and was intended to make things easier for everyone. If you don't have a smartphone, where most digital cards will be stored, the state advises patients to print out the cards and keep one in a wallet or glove box.
The primary feature of SB 1494 was to set up a state-overseen program to test all medical marijuana products for contaminants like mold, residual pesticides, and heavy metals. A council of experts recently finalized their recommendations on the program to the state. Testing must begin by November 2020.
Arizona patients should have no problem finding medicine in California, Colorado, or Nevada, or any other state with a recreational cannabis law. But what can patients do if fate takes them to the island paradise of Hawaii? They can apply for a temporary card, that's what. And if they head east to New Mexico, the option's even better as of 2019: Arizona patients can legally enroll in New Mexico's program.
Impoverished marijuana offenders continue to be put through the wringer in Maricopa County's expensive TASC program. But help could be on the way in the form of a lawsuit still wending its way through court that might terminate the drug-treatment option, which treats poor people to a longer trip just because they're poor.
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"Fuck them. They're 20-year-old dopes," said Fox 10 News anchor Kari Lake about Phoenix New Times last summer — while streaming live video. "That's a rag for selling marijuana ads."
If you read one marijuana story last year, it was probably this one. It wasn't actually about marijuana, but it was one of New Times' most-viewed stories in 2019.