Most Read Phoenix New Times Stories of 2021

A woman who hails from Scottsdale was caught on video intentionally coughing on her fellow masked shoppers at a Nebraska grocery store.
A woman who hails from Scottsdale was caught on video intentionally coughing on her fellow masked shoppers at a Nebraska grocery store. Twitter
Arizonans embraced the smoky haze of legal marijuana this year as the familiar sweet but skunky smell has permeated everywhere from homes to the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport elevators. It’s a small reprieve from the otherwise dark world of a global pandemic, attack on American Democracy, and climate change cranking up the heat.

Voters approved Proposition 207 late last year which legalized pot purchases for adults at least 21 years old and enabled people with marijuana convictions for 2.5 ounces or less to wipe clean their criminal record.

Billboards for recreational marijuana are about as common as taco shops in Phoenix, often next door to dispensaries for when the munchies kick in. Big pot is a billion-dollar business already, Arizona dispensaries sold $465 million for recreational weed plus another $640 million in medical bud between January and November, state records show. That meant $175 million cushioned state coffers.
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There were more than 100 medical marijuana dispensaries already hawking pot in January which has grown to 140 licenses statewide. About a dozen licenses were carved out for rural communities and a lottery for 26 more licenses earmarked for individuals impacted by the previous decades of the war on drugs is on the table. But criticism of the social equity program meant to diversify ownership of pot businesses is that big companies are using partners as golden tickets spurring lawsuits.

Rioters, many of whom had ties to Arizona, stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington on January 6 to disrupt the certification of the presidential election to support Donald Trump. The move, which many consider an assault on the democratic process by an angry conspiracy theory-driven mob, was lauded by some Republicans in the state.

The coronavirus pandemic dragged on for its second year filled with two-shot vaccines and booster shots but also variants such as Delta and Omicron continuing to spread the virus. In Arizona, 1.3 million people have been infected with COVID-19 since the pandemic began in 2020 and more than 23,700 people have died. Roughly 64 percent of residents have been vaccinated statewide.

For six days straight in late June summer temperatures rose above 115 degrees in Phoenix, just one of the many heat records smashed this year. Sweltering heat lingered into November as much of the month remained in the 80s instead of cooling down. The wet monsoon season brought unexpected humidity to the dry heat desert in waves alongside mosquitos and black flies.

A momentary bright sport was that for the first time in nearly three decades the Phoenix Suns played in the NBA Finals – but they lost.

12. Many Phoenix-Area Police Departments Don't Even Know If Their Officers are Vaccinated 8/27/2021

It’s no secret that law enforcement officers across the Phoenix metro area are wary of the COVID-19 vaccine but some police departments in the Valley aren’t even keeping tabs on who got the jab. Only Phoenix, Gilbert, Buckeye and Goodyear police departments kept track alongside the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office of dismal adoption among officers in the field. That means if a cop stops you on the street, it’s more likely than not that person is not vaccinated.

11. Phoenix to Investigate After Overworked 911 Dispatcher Hospitalized 3/5/2021

The hospitalization and later death of a woman who worked forced overtime at the city’s emergency dispatch center was investigated by the city of Phoenix. Council members called for an independent investigation and a better work environment at the call center where dozens of workers have gotten COVID-19.

10. Not On TV, Kari Lake Is Active on Site for Right-Wingers, Nazis 1/21/2021

Former television news anchor Kari Lake dove deeper into far-right social media after joining a website popular among QAnon followers and neo-Nazis known as Gab. Lake, a former FOX 10 anchor, was already active on the conservative Twitter alternative Parler.

9. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann to Constituent: 'Biden Won' 6/4/2021

During the election audit in Arizona, a leader of the Republican party confessed to an angry constituent that president Joe Biden won the election – not Trump. Karen Fann, the Republican president of the Arizona Senate and a rabble rouser who prompted the audit sent emails saying that the audit was not to dispute Trump’s loss but to show that there wasn’t a problem with the election system.

8. Not Qualified for COVID-19 Vaccine, Residents Turned to Volunteering 1/27/2021

Months before the general public had widespread access to the COVID-19 vaccines dozens of residents volunteered at vaccination sites in exchange for an early shot. Some braved the cold winter temperatures sans medical field experience to assist professionals in administering hundreds of shots to eligible residents such as those who worked or lived in nursing homes and people 65 years of age or older.

7. Arizona State University Says Kyle Rittenhouse 'Not Enrolled' In Any Classes 11/29/2021

Acquitted Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse dropped his Arizona State University classes. Rittenhouse was taking some online courses to study nursing at ASU as a non-degree seeking student. But he still intends to resume coursework once again and study on campus in Arizona. He’s considering pursuing law. Rittenhouse shot and killed two people during police brutality protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin but was found not guilty on all homicide charges. Attorneys argued it was self-defense.

6. It Took Phoenix Motorists One Week to Wreck The City's First Two-Way Protected Bike Lane 6/16/2021

Phoenix drivers had a hard time staying in their lanes and destroyed some of the city’s first two-way buffered bicycle lanes within days of opening to the public. The protected bicycle lanes which run along 3rd Avenue between Roosevelt Street and McDowell Road had a concrete bern to keep vehicles and bicycles apart.

5. The Target of an Alleged Proud Boys Plot Has Been Found Murdered in El Mirage 10/1/2021

Police found a 55-year old man murdered in his El Mirage home who was embattled with a former member of the Proud Boys, a far-right white supremacist group. The man was accused of falsely calling the Texas attorney a Nazi and pedophile in blog posts online. In return, he was spied on and threatened to be assassinated. When news of his death finally reached the attorney, he said he was “glad to hear” about it but denied any involvement.

4. Viral Ice Cream Challenge Videos Lead to New Arizona Law 2/19/2021

The nasty social media trend of swapping spit with food or drinks in the grocery store then putting it back on the shelf now a crime. People caught sticking licked ice cream back in the freezer, presumably because they videotaped themselves doing it for social media, could face jail time in Arizona. The new anti-tampering law means it’s a misdemeanor to purposefully mingle bodily fluids or foreign objects into food or drinks and somebody consumes it later. Individuals caught could serve four months in jail and pay a $750 fine if they contaminate the grocery items but nobody eats it.

3. Phoenix 911 Dispatcher Hospitalized After Mandatory 15-Hour Shift 3/1/2021

Phoenix emergency dispatcher Shirley Ryan died after a grueling 15-hour shift handling 911 calls. Ryan was recovering from COVID-19 after six weeks off the job. She had worked at the city’s windowless call center for 20 years. She returned to work still sickly because her paid leave had run out and needed to support her family. The department was woefully understaffed and she worked mandated overtime to fill in the gaps because many of her colleagues were out sick with COVID-19 too. Employees claimed that the city rationed disinfectant wipes to sanitize workstations, which the city denied.

2. Scottsdale Woman Goes Viral For Coughing On Masked Shoppers At Nebraska Grocery Store 9/8/2021

Millions of people watched a viral video on social media of a Scottsdale woman who coughed on her fellow masked shoppers at a Nebraska grocery store. Janene Hoskovec was fired from her job in technology sales, a high price for a chance to heckle people who wear masks during a global pandemic.

1. Massive freeway to pave over desert in Arizona 11/16/2021

The most ambitious new freeway project in a generation is moving forward as the Federal Highway Administration approved plans for a 280-mile stretch of freeway between Nogales and Wickenburg in Arizona. The new multi-billion dollar Interstate 11 would connect Phoenix and Las Vegas but it’s likely years away from construction. The federal government has one more environmental review to narrow a corridor down to the route of a road and environmentalists worry about a new road through untouched desert while Native American tribes and residents worry their homes may be bulldozed in the process.
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Kristen Mosbrucker is a journalist who hails from the Northeast but has spent much of her career over the past decade across the South. She has interviewed everyone from business executives to homeless folks. She's covered business on the Texas-Mexico border in deep South Texas for the McAllen Monitor, technology and the defense industry in San Antonio for American City Business Journals, and the petrochemical industry in Louisiana for The Advocate newspaper. Early in her career, she spearheaded hyperlocal community news coverage for an NPR member station in Philadelphia.