Arizona's main marijuana-legalization campaign was the butt of jokes and stereotypes on network TV on Wednesday — which is totally cool when the comedian is Jimmy Fallon.
Fallon, host of The Tonight Show, gave a shout-out during his Wednesday-night monologue to the clever billboards rolled out in Phoenix and Tucson this week by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona.
Between cracks about a new Radiohead song and a scientific study of insect personalities, Fallon reminded viewers that Sunday is Mother's Day.
"And I read that Mother's Day-themed pro-marijuana billboards are popping up in Arizona," he said to a supportive round of applause. "You can tell they're working when Mother's Day brunch lasts seven hours."
Then came his squinty-eyed impression of someone who might have eaten one Bhang bar too many, at a seven-hour brunch.
"You ever notice that 'mom' upside-down is 'wow?" his pot-impaired character drawls. "Do you have any Hot Pockets?"
Underlying the humor is a serious subject: Arizona has zero-tolerance, felony, anti-cannabis laws.
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Arizonans overwhelmingly voted in 1996 to prevent jail or prison terms for first- and second-time offenders. Yet nearly every adult who gets caught by police with the smallest bud of marijuana is still booked into jail, wasting the time of police and jail officers. Phoenix police alone arrest an average of five people a day for nothing but possession of small amounts of marijuana. About 10 people a day in Maricopa County go through the wringer. Faced with potential felony conviction and loss of firearm and voting rights, those who run afoul of this old-school system are forced to make a deal with the prosecutor's office for the privilege of enrolling in a drug-treatment program most don't need. And it's all for possessing a substance scientifically proven to be less risky to their health, or the health of others, than alcohol.
The CRMLA, which is sponsored by the national Marijuana Policy Project and medical-marijuana dispensaries across Arizona, announced last month that it has collected more than 200,000 signatures toward its goal of 225,000. To put its Colorado-style legalization measure on November's ballot, the campaign must turn in 150,000 signatures of verified registered voters by July 7. If voters approve it, anyone 21 and older will have the freedom to possess personal amounts of cannabis or cannabis plants, and they'll be able to buy it at a limited number of state-authorized retail stores.
Polls show that such a measure could go either way this year. One substantial challenge to any kind of legalization bill in Arizona is voter turnout; another is the hordes of older people who have ideas about marijuana that are often ill-informed and based on old government propaganda.
J.P. Holyoak, the chair of the CRMLA and a local medical-marijuana dispensary operator, said the goal of the billboards is to raise awareness among those potential voters.
“Younger voters need to talk to their parents about marijuana and make sure they understand it is actually less harmful than alcohol," he said. "They are the voices of reason, and we want to help them make their voices heard.”