Marijuana advocates rallied outside Phoenix police headquarters yesterday evening, demanding respect for state law.
Motivated at least in part by police actions that may run counter to Arizona's Medical Marijuana Act, thirty or so representatives of pro-pot groups, cannabis collectives and their supporters held signs, encouraged motorists to honk and greeted police at the cops' own front door. The demonstration at 7th Avenue and Washington ran from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
"We're here for the patients," said Eric Johnson, of the Phoenix chapter of NORML. "We need a place where people can get their medicine."
Demonstrators spoke out against the police raids of compassion clubs, caregiver collectives and other people accused of distributing marijuana to state-registered medical-marijuana patients.
"We've got patients with cancer and Crohn's that can't go three-four days without marijuana," said Lori Justus, a patient advocate with NORML.
Part of their frustration stemmed from Governor Jan Brewer's canceling of the dispensary portion of the law last year, in flagrant opposition to voters' wishes. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne's crack legal team was practically laughed out of court by a federal judge in December, and Brewer had to be ordered by a judge to implement the law.
In the backdrop of political scene, law enforcement authorities who can't seem to break the habit of busting pot users have conducted raids at businesses including the 2811 Club, the Arizona Cannabis Society, YoKi A Ma, AZ Go Green Co-Op and the Medical Marijuana Advocacy Group.
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Last August, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne asked a court to figure out whether the clubs violated state law. That case still hasn't been decided.
Activists also said they wanted to make sure police throughout the state are receiving training on how to deal with medical-marijuana patients and their pot. Despite the choice of location for the rally, Johnson admitted that Phoenix police seem to be doing better than other Valley agencies as far as training.
Qualified patients can possess up to 2.5 ounces at any given time, and police can log on to a state Department of Health Services database to verify a patient's registration card. Usually, possession of any amount of marijuana is a felony in Arizona, resulting in thousands of arrests per year. The state's first medical-marijuana law in 1996 prevents first or second-time users from being sentenced to jail time.
Arizona's program helps people suffering from serious medical ailments, but the 2010 law was also welcomed by people who'd simply like to see the end of marijuana prohibition.
One of the protesters, white-bearded "Warren," who's wearing Frank Zappa shirt, said he's been "at this for 40 years." Back in the 70s, he figured it would be five or 10 years at the most before pot became legal. "Then I lost hope."
He's a member of a group called CAMP 420.
"I felt it was sort of my duty to come out and support my friends," Warren said. "Sometimes, somebody's got to stand up and say something."
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Brian, who also did not want to give his last name, belongs to the Arizona Cannabis Society, which re-opened in El Mirage after a raid earlier this year that apparently hasn't resulted in any criminal charges.
"There's always a worry," he said. "It's a rough situation."
Organizers had hoped for a slightly larger crowd, but enough demonstrators showed up to make a point.
There's a new law in town.