Arizona's Week in Weed: Legalization Campaign Tells Polk to Return Booze Money, Congress Helps Vets

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

CRMLA Takes Issue With Pot Prohibitionists' Acceptance of Booze-Industry Contribution
An Arizona anti-marijuana-legalization group should return a large campaign contribution it received from the alcohol industry, say backers of a pro-cannabis measure expected to be on November's ballot.

"Using alcohol money to fund their campaign to maintain marijuana prohibition is grossly hypocritical," J.P. Holyoak said in a statement released last week by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona. "They want to continue punishing adults for using marijuana, but they have no problem accepting five-figure donations from purveyors of a far more harmful substance."

The campaign was responding to New Times' article last week about a recent $10,000 contribution by the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association to the anti-legalization group Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy.

When asked about the contribution, a spokeswoman for the prohibitionist group told New Times, "It should come as no surprise that members of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry — which supports ARDP's position opposing legalizing recreational marijuana — are contributing to our cause. And given how much the alcohol industry potentially stands to gain if the initiative passes, as seen in Colorado, their support speaks volumes about how poorly written this initiative is for hardworking Arizonans."

ARDP is headed up by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and local AM radio hack Seth Leibsohn, who've framed much of their argument around alleged public-safety issues.

If Leibsohn and Polk don't return the $10,000 to the pro-alcohol group immediately, Holyoak said, "They should just acknowledge that their campaign has nothing to do with promoting public health, and is merely based on anti-marijuana prejudice."

Holyoak believes ARDP will ramp up its efforts as the election draws nearer. "We will be watching closely," he warned, if Polk's group continues to take money from groups that promote alcohol.

The group expects to turn in more than enough signatures before a July 7 deadline to qualify for November's ballot. The measure, sponsored by the national Marijuana Policy Project and various Arizona dispensaries, would allow possession and cultivation of personal amounts of cannabis and set up a system of retail shops.

Congress Votes to Stop Hassling Veterans Over Medical Marijuana
Medical-marijuana supporters received a boost from last week from Congress, which voted to allow Veterans Affairs doctors to discuss cannabis with their patients, and to recommend it as a treatment.

The House of Representatives both passed amendments on Thursday authorizing VA doctors to "provide recommendations and opinions" to veterans who live in medical-marijuana states, including Arizona.

Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), along with 10 bipartisan cosponsors, introduced the Veterans Equal Access amendment as part of a 2017 military-appropriations bill. The Senate passed a similar amendment this past month, meaning the legislation will likely go into effect next year if signed as expected by President Obama. 

Until then, the VA will continue its restriction on what doctors can do for veterans. Currently, VA providers are banned from completing marijuana-recommendation paperwork or even talking about cannabis as a treatment option, according to Blumenauer's office.

"The Veterans Health Administration has made it very clear that, as federal employees, they lack the free speech necessary to write the recommendations for Veterans to comply with state programs," Michael Krawitz, executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, wrote in a statement about the amendment's passage. "This legislation is needed to correct that legal situation and repair this VA doctor patient relationship."

Under Arizona law and  Department of Health Services rules, anyone diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder would qualify for medical marijuana. Other qualifying ailments include chronic pain, nausea, cancer, and Crohn's disease.

Marijuana Industry Creating "Headache" for Poor Colorado Neighborhoods?
Arizonans interested in the effects of legalized marijuana will want to check out an article published last week in Politico Magazine by Denver Post writer Jon Murray, which focuses on how marijuana businesses are affecting poor neighborhoods.

"In working-class neighborhoods like Elyria-Swansea, Globeville, and Northeast Park Hill there's a growing sense among residents that they have been overrun by a new drug trade, legal but noxious all the same," Murray writes. "These communities once offered plentiful jobs in the city's smelters, meatpacking houses, brickyards, and stockyards, but those industries are mostly gone now, along with Denver's cow town image. In the past few years, the city's newest growth industry has moved in — and not in a subtle way."

Problems have included a sometimes-strong smell of weed-growing operations wafting through residential areas, minority entrepreneurs being squeezed out of their communities by well-funded pot businesses, and the shock of legalization opponents at the industry's highly visible rise.

There are some lessons here for Arizona, which may approve a law that's similar to Colorado's.

Despite reports of alleged drawbacks, Colorado hasn't suffered from legalizing marijuana for all adults in 2012. Marijuana-tax collections have been higher than expected and the state continues to set tourism records. As reported last week by the U.S. Census, Denver has grown so much (and Detroit declined so much), that it's now one of the top 20 largest U.S. cities.

Arizona Cannabis Activist Billy Hayes is Sentenced to Two Years in Prison
Billy Hayes, a local pro-cannabis activist and expert cultivator, was sentenced last week to two years in prison for his role in two medical-marijuana businesses.

New Times was the only media outlet to report on the outcome of Hayes' cases, and — in case you missed it — has full coverage of the sentencing hearing in an article published over the weekend.

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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