Earlier in August, Mikel Weisser, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws of Arizona, published a lengthy report card on the many candidates vying for a public office in 2018. Now that the votes are being counted and most of the races have clear winners, Weisser said he likes what he sees.
"I feel pretty confident we've gained ground with the people who look like they'll be in office," he said.
Of the many examples, Weisser said he was excited to see that attorney Diego Rodriguez appears headed to join incumbent Democrat Reginald Bolding in District 27, which covers south Phoenix, Laveen, and part of the Gila River Indian Community. No Republican opponent is running for the seat.
In 2016, Rodriguez ran a campaign to unseat Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery with some help from lefty billionaire George Soros. That didn't work out so well, but now the pro-cannabis-rights candidate can work from the inside to diminish Montgomery ability to hassle cannabis consumers, medical or otherwise.
Weisser, a Democrat who has tried unsuccessfully to take on Congressman Paul Gosar in Arizona's 4th Congressional District for the previous three election cycles, didn't run for any office this year. Since the failure of Prop 205, the state's legalization initiative in 2016, he and NORML have worked with other local activists, plus, representatives of the Arizona Dispensaries Association (ADA) and Marijuana Industry Trade Association of Arizona, to convince local lawmakers to make various changes to the medical marijuana program.
Members of the ADA made progress by setting up an historic meeting with Governor Doug Ducey — a staunch legalization foe — earlier this year. And a bill that would have required the testing of medicinal marijuana for contaminants received wide support from both parties. However, after Republicans forced a key provision out of the bill that would lowered the cost of obtaining a medical-marijuana card, Democrats voted against the bill and prevented it from reaching the three-fourths majority required to change a voter-approved law.
Weisser said he met with ADA members on Wednesday as part of ongoing strategy sessions to prepare for the 2019 legislative session. As part of the process, they're looking at the primary results and figuring out who will help and who will hurt the cannabis cause for the next couple of years. NORML volunteers helped Weisser determine the positions of new and incumbent candidates from existing statements or new interviews, he said, adding that creating the report card was one of his biggest projects in recent years.
With the primary results mostly in, here are the highlights of what Weisser and NORML had to say about the politicians and wannabes and their positions on cannabis. (NORML's comments are set off in in shaded boxes, with letter grades or question marks before each candidate's name.) Most Arizona Republicans earn an F or D, unsurprisingly, while many Democrats rated higher. You'll find only the most noteworthy grades below. If you don't see a candidate from your district, or for an office you're interested in, check NORML's list. (NORML could not determine all candidates' positions.)
If you didn't vote in the primary, that's okay — but it's time to start paying attention. The general election is November 6. If you didn't vote in the primary because you're not registered, put down that dabbing rig, go to the Arizona Secretary of State's website, and take care of it. The deadline to register is October 9.
B+ David Garcia – [Democrat] ... David Garcia’s campaign has courted the industry and made a statement on the current AZ Concentrates Crisis. Though cautious, Garcia is helping the cause.
C- Gov. Doug Ducey – [Republican] Prior to this year’s legislative session, Ducey’s record was totally F-ed. However, he did sign the hemp bill and has promised to work w the industry to create reforms this upcoming session.
B+ January Contreras – [Democrat] While Contreras says the “jury is still out” on whether or not legalization is a good thing, she does support the state’s medical program and has called for a dramatic shift in law enforcement priorities away from bedeviling the state’s $400 million dollar industry.
C Mark Brnovich – [Republican] A mixed bag so far. Brnovich, the incumbent, claimed to be a liberally minded GOP candidate when elected four years ago, but has done nothing to liberalize the AG’s office approach to cannabis issues. Thus far he hasn’t called for a crack down on the industry since the Jones decision, but it will take more than that to get a good rating.
C Sen. Katie Hobbs – [Democrat] As a leading Democratic senator, Hobbs has had numerous opportunities to support reforms and the cannabis industry. While she says she supports the idea of medical marijuana and signed on to other’s legislation, she has yet to take an active role.
? Steve Gaynor – [Republican]
Incumbent Michele Reagan — who NORML called a "former prohibitionist state legislator" — lost her seat in the primary on Tuesday. But as NORML indicates, Gaynor's positions on cannabis are unknown. As secretary of state, Hobbs or Gaynor will be second in line for the governor's chair in an emergency. Plus, as the state's chief election officer, the secretary of state may play an important role if a cannabis legalization initiative aims to get on the ballot in 2020. OpenSecrets.com shows that Gaynor donates often to Republican candidates both in and out of Arizona, and has given $5,400 to U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally. But Gaynor, owner of a California-based printing-business, also gave $1,000 to California Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu in 2016.
? Mark Manoil – [Democrat] Though a noted libera[l] progressive leader, Manoil appears to have avoided making statements on cannabis.
F Sen. Kimberly Yee – [Republican] A rare special case, State Senator Kimberly Yee is the kind of elite focused prohibitionist whose record is even below F status.
Yee kicked GOP competitor Jo Ann Sabbagh's butt 58 percent to 42 and will go on to face Manoil in the general.
C Rep. Martha McSally – [Republican] Typical law-n-order conservative.
B Rep. Kyrsten Sinema – [Democrat] ... While avoiding the topic in general, Sinema has issued statements calling for the federal government to allow state programs to operate without interference and for increased access for veterans.
McSally beat Joe Arpaio and Kelli Ward, both of whom received F grades from NORML. Sinema beat Deedra Abboud, who had a B+ grade for speaking in favor of cannabis law reforms.
Congressional District 2
C Rep. Ann L. Kirkpatrick – [Democrat] After years of discussion, Kirkpatrick now accepts medical uses, but does not support wider legalization.Most Democratic voters picked Ann Kirkpatrick, giving her a solid win against her nearest competitor, Matt Heinz, who was slightly worse on cannabis issues, according to NORML, which gave him a C-. The Democrats who didn't make it all had higher cannabis grades. Kirkpatrick will likely face Republican Lea Marquez Peterson in November. NORML was unable to determine the cannabis positions for any CD2 Republican candidates.
Congressional District 7
A+ Rep. Ruben Gallego – [Democrat] LEGALIZE, TAX AND REGULATE, MEDICAL, DECRIMINALIZE Longest AZ champion on the issue, both at the state and federal levels. As a state legislator, Gallego was the first to introduce legislation for full adult use in AZ.
Gallego beat back a primary challenge from State Senator Catherine Miranda, who had only rated a C+ grade from NORML.
A Sen. Sonny Borrelli – [Republican] MEDICAL USE, DECRIMINALIZE Despite a strong anti-legalization stance, Borrelli has emerged as a leading GOP reformer on medical cannabis issues, pushing through the 2018 hemp bill and working over a year on an unsuccessful bill that would have established testing standards for the industry.
Borrelli will face J'aime Morgaine in the general, but the Lake Havasu-area district leans heavily GOP.
State Senate District 11
F Vince Leach – [Republican] MANDATORY MINIMUMS, JAIL TIME FOR POSSESSION, NO MEDICAL USE The most active prohibitionist over the last few years. Filed 6 anti-cannabis bills last session.
B Ralph Atchue – [Democrat]
Leach will face Atchue in the general.
State Senate District 13
? Sen. Sine Kerr – [Republican] A midterm replacement, Kerr kept under the radar.
? Michelle Harris [Democrat]
Kerr, who beat Brent Backus and bad-boy lawmaker Don Shooter in the GOP primary, will face Harris in the general. Besides being a lech, Shooter, who was shamefully trying to get back in the Legislature after his peers kicked him out this year for sexual harassment, also had "a consistent record of attacking cannabis reform," according to NORML, which gave him an F.
State Senate District 14
F Rep. David M. Gowan Sr. – [Republican] A returning state legislator who has opposed the issue in the past.
? Jaime Alvarez – [Democrat]
Gowan beat John Drew in the Republican primary and will face Alvarez in the general.
State Senate District 18
? Frank Schmuck – [Republican]Schmuck and Bowie ran unopposed and will face each other in the general.
C Sen. Sean Bowie – [Democrat} Consistently avoids topic, claims district is too conservative to discuss it.
State Senate District 22
B- Rep. David Livingston – [Republican] MEDICAL USE ONLY Formerly resistant, has lightened position somewhat, assisted the testing bill this year.Livingston beat Clair Van Steenwyk in the GOP primary for this northwest Valley district, which is a good thing from NORML's point of view. The group described Steenwyk as a hardcore right-winger who "Claims 'illegal drugs' are sins and Jesus supports capital punishment for dealers."
A+ Wendy Garcia – [Democrat] Lifelong cannabis advocate at both state and federal level, Garcia is also leader in the Phoenix area Indivisible movement.
Garcia beat transgender candidate Brianna Westbrook soundly in the Democratic primary and will face Livingston in the general. Weisser said he's looking forward to seeing Garcia win in November.
D Dr. Ed Gogek –Though Gogek acknowledges cannabis as medicine and claims he opposes AZ’s harsh cannabis criminal penalties, he has consistently worked against cannabis reform in general and was a leading voice in the NO-vote movements of both 2010 and 2016.
? Ms. Jan Manolis
D+ Rep. Noel Campbell – A former DEA pilot, Campbell professes to support the medical program, but continues to perpetuate debunked reefer madness myths from his days in law enforcement. If he wasn’t such a gentleman about his score would be lower.
C- Rep. David Stringer – MEDICAL USE, DECRIMINALIZE. A former D.C. lawyer, Stringer claims to support issue but hasn’t helped, saying his district is too conservative.
District 1 voters in Prescott may want to mix and match this year on their two picks for the State House. In one corner, they've got David Stringer, a Republican who's moderate on cannabis issues but thinks there aren't "aren't enough white kids" in Arizona schools. In the other corner is Ed Gogek, a Democrat who is not only against cannabis legalization, he actually wrote a book to educate parents and politicians on how to fight legalization.
Besides the above, Democrats with A+ ratings who will return to the Legislature in 2019 include Richard Andrade, D-29, Pam Hannley, D-9, and Juan Mendez, D-26. Cannabis advocates will also see a few familiar faces they'd rather forget, like F-grade lawmakers John Kavanagh, Sylvia Allen (who's being challenged by Democrat Wade Carlisle, Eddie Farnsworth, and Paul Boyer.
Don't expect miracles, but Weisser said he expects to see "powerful efforts" to improve the medical marijuana program over the next year.