This year was an important year for marijuana-related issues in Arizona.
Some of the most important battles of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act were fought this year, and there appears to be a future for legalization. Check out the top 10 marijuana stories from New Times this year:
In another victory for pro-legalization forces, a new Obama Administration policy took a mostly hands-off approach to state marijuana laws. The news by the U.S. Justice Department came as a long-awaited response to last year's elections in Colorado and Washington that legalized the use and sale of marijuana.
On the list of people we'd probably never expect to come out in support of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, we'd probably put an anti-drug crusader U.S. Attorney who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan somewhere near the top of the list. However, we've seen that man, A. Melvin McDonald, all over the place, giving glowing reviews of medical marijuana.
Assistant House Minority Leader Ruben Gallego, a Phoenix Democrat, announced plans to introduce a marijuana-legalization bill during the upcoming legislative session. Gallego, an Iraq War veteran, said he's working on a bill "that would regulate and tax marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol." (Before we get ahead of ourselves, yes, Republicans still have a healthy majority in both chambers of the Legislature, and several Republicans still try to fight the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program.)
The national Marijuana Policy Project, bolstered by federal approval of state pot-freedom laws, plans to put a Colorado-style legalization initiative on Arizona's ballot for 2016. It's part of a master plan to pass similar legalization laws in 10 states by 2017. There's a local effort to do the same for 2014, but it's lacking any major source of funding.
Phoenix police busted marijuana activist Billy Hayes for the second time in two years in connection with running an unauthorized medical-marijuana dispensary. Hayes was behind the Arizona Cannabis Society, a caregiver collective we wrote about in February of 2012 that grew buds for patients in an El Mirage warehouse. A few weeks after our article appeared, Phoenix police raided the place and claimed the co-op had exceeded the number of marijuana plants allowed by state law.
It shouldn't be illegal to possess a little marijuana, according to more than half of Arizona's residents. This Behavior Research Center poll shows that 56 percent of the Arizonans surveyed are in favor of "legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use," with majority support from both genders and all age groups.
Foodstuffs infused with marijuana concentrates always were supposed to be part of the package when voters approved Proposition 203, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, in 2010. Supporters said at the time that one reason patients would be allowed to possess so much pot -- they can buy 2.5 ounces every two weeks and possess up to 2.5 ounces at a time -- was because some patients preferred infusing concentrated forms of the medicine into food rather than smoking. However, cops and prosecutors took another look at the Arizona criminal code and found a loophole for themselves.
Medical-marijuana users were warned. And now Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is carrying out his plan to harass qualified medical users for resin-infused edibles.
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The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in county court to resolve the issue of medical-marijuana extracts for a seizure-plagued boy. Saying an oil from a low-THC strain of marijuana has dramatically reduced the seizures suffered by 5-year-old Zander Welton, the ACLU and the Weltons are asking the court to declare that extracts are legal under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, and block County Attorney Bill Montgomery from taking legal action against the family based on his "incorrect" interpretation of the law.
Anyone with the slightest hint of pot residue in their blood -- even card-holding patients -- commits a legal foul every time they get behind the wheel. Arizona is one of 15 states that has a zero-tolerance law against driving with any amount of pot in the system. But, in keeping with the state's oddball reputation, Arizona is one of only three states that have both a zero-tolerance driving law for pot and a law legalizing the sale, possession, and use of medical marijuana.