Arizona's Week in Weed: Legalization Measure Hits Milestone, Bill Montgomery and Marijuana — WITH UPDATE

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Arizona has marijuana on the brain — and no wonder: The state has one of the country's biggest medical-marijuana programs, it may approve an adult-use legalization initiative at the ballot in November, and it shares a border with one of the world's biggest producers of cannabis.

Here's a roundup of some of last week's biggest news stories related to cannabis and the Grand Canyon State:

* Pot-legalization initiative hits another milestone:

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona announced that it reached 200,000 signatures toward its goal. 

But it's not yet time for a smoke-break: The group will continue to gather signatures until it reaches 225,000, far more than the roughly 150,000 it needs to put the legalization measure on November's ballot. That'll give a good cushion in case Republican Secretary of State Michele Reagan starts tossing out tens of thousands of petitions for alleged problems after the July 7 turn-in date.

The measure makes it legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, five grams, or six live plants without penalty, and sets up a system of retail stores where adults 21 and older would buy cannabis products.

* Feds raid dozens of homes in Colorado for alleged marijuana violations:

Remember the sweet and cuddly U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency that earlier this month announced it would consider rescheduling marijuana from its current, absurd classification as a Schedule One drug? Yeah, well, last week the DEA was back to usual self with raids on dozens of homes and warehouses in Colorado for marijuana violations, causing pro-cannabis activists in Arizona and elsewhere to take huge notice.

In dramatic scenes that played out in numerous, quiet neighborhoods, cops and federal agents barged into homes and hauled people off in handcuffs. So much marijuana was confiscated that National Guard units were brought in to help. A National Guard truck was used to take away 300 plants found in one home.

What's going on, cannabis enthusiasts lamented on social media — didn't voters legalize marijuana in Colorado? The answer is that there are limits to the state's legalization program: 300 plants is far over the legal limit of six plants per person, with 12 maximum per household. Authorities claim that, in at least in some of the cases, suspects from Texas bought homes in Colorado for the purpose of growing marijuana that would be shipped out of state.

* Arizonans for Mindful Regulation makes a "final plea" for volunteers and donations:
The scrappy, second-place marijuana-legalization campaign in Arizona doesn't have the financial muscle of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona, but it claims to have collected more than 100,000 signatures so far. It made a "final plea" for volunteer signature-gatherers and donations last week, The campaign still needs to collect 120,000 signatures in the next three months.

Perhaps, it can be done. If so, voters will get to choose between the CRMLA initiative and the AZFMR measure, which provides for 10 times as many cannabis retail outlets, decriminalization for black-market dealers, and boosted protection from governmental interference with the law.

However, potential donors should realize that the group actively opposes the CRMLA and claims it'll ramp up its opposition if it doesn't make November's ballot. This means money given to AZFMR actually could help sink the chances of legalization in Arizona this year.

* Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery claimed that pot's causing a spike in heroin deaths, according to Channel 3 News:

A day after the CRMLA announced it had reached 200,000 signatures, Bill Montgomery — a longtime foe of cannabis-law reforms — said at his weekly news conference that marijuana was behind the dramatic tripling of heroin deaths in the past few years. Following a video presentation featuring former heroin addicts, reports Channel 3 News (KTVK-TV), Montgomery said, "every single one of them, when they were discussing their own addiction or someone else's, referenced beginning with marijuana use."

The absurd "stepping-stone theory" is alive and well, it seems. Montgomery's take makes it seem like no one would try heroin if not for the evil weed. The county attorney's tried to draw this connection before: Last year, New Times noticed that in the middle of an anti-heroin public service announcement paid for with the public's money, Montgomery's video producers stuck an image of a bunch of normal-looking people smoking marijuana.

Whatever substance heroin addicts may have started with, the simple fact remains that the vast majority of cannabis users have never tried, much less become addicted, to heroin.

UPDATE 4 p.m. — Jerry Cobb, Montgomery's spokesman, called this afternoon to say that Montgomery doesn't agree with Channel 3 reporter Dennis Welch's assessment of the county attorney's position. In fact, Montgomery actually agrees it would be absurd to say marijuana is causing heroin addiction or death, Cobb says. 

Montgomery's message last week was about heroin, and while it's true he "didn't miss an opportunity" to take another swipe at marijuana following the video presentation, Cobb says the connection he drew was much more subtle than reported. Montgomery did say after the presentation that the heroin addicts in the video referenced starting with marijuana use, Cobb says, but Montgomery didn't say marijuana was "causing' heroin addiction or death, and never linked marijuana directly to heroin use.

Cobb says Montgomery understands that if heroin users started with marijuana, it's "probably more related to the fact that if you're more likely to try one mind-altering substance, you might be willing to try another."

Montgomery's clearly trying to draw some connections between marijuana and heroin use, as he's done in the past. But, in a nod to the reality of the situation, he's drawing a distinction between his ideas and an extreme "gateway drug"-type theory against marijuana.

* The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee took steps to help veterans access medical pot:
A military appropriations bill will contain a bipartisan amendment by U.S. Senators Steve Daines (R-Montana) and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) that would allow Veterans Affairs doctors to discuss medical marijuana with patients as a possible option to treat various ailments.

Like other marijuana-related measures coming from Washington D.C. in the Barack Obama era, this one doesn't provide a long-term fix. It stops funds from being used to discourage doctors from talking to their patients about marijuana as a potential treatment and eases the minds of doctors who would like to recommend marijuana to some patients but have worried it might get them in trouble.

Veterans will just have to hope the bill gets renewed or that a new law that permanently protects their rights gets passed.

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