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Top 25 Arizona Marijuana Stories in 2015

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This year was the most historic in history for Arizona's cannabis culture.

One of the pioneering states for marijuana freedom in the country, Arizona has a well-established medical-marijuana program that includes nearly 90 retail outlets. Advocates worked hard in 2015 to collect signatures for a legalization measure expected to be on the ballot next November.

And a small, but powerful cadre of conservatives worked nearly as hard to undermine the movement.

Along the way, important court cases were settled, debates were held, tax estimates were made, and interesting scientific studies were published.

Here's a rundown of the top 25 cannabis stories that had Arizonans talking in 2015:

25.) The Marijuana Policy Project's Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol advanced toward its goal of putting a legalization measure before Arizona's voters next year, collecting more than 125,000 signatures as of mid-December.

24.) The Marijuana Policy Project battled with local dispensary owners, who threatened to put their own, competing ballot measure before voters. Deal-making ensued, and the two sides now work together.

23.) Arizonans for Mindful Regulation and activist Jason Medar launched a separate legalization campaign, appealing to cannabis activists who want a bolder ballot initiative — and vowing to defeat the MPP measure if their bill doesn't make the ballot.

22.) State statistics revealed that in 2014, consumers of medical cannabis in Arizona smoked, ate, or drank about 10 tons of marijuana.

21.) Local cannabis activist Dave Wisniewski, a.k.a. "Stoned Guy," scores a hit video after recording himself freaking out over a giant grasshopper, and vows to send the ad proceeds to legalization causes.

20.) Studies suggest possible changes in the brain structure of cannabis users, with one declaring that users of high-potency "skunk" weed have subtle differences in their brains compared to non-users or users of less-potent pot.

19.) Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery loses his cool and calls a military veteran an "enemy" at a March debate on cannabis legalization.

18.) The Arizona Supreme Court declares that qualified patients sentenced to parole or probation for any crime can't be denied from using medical marijuana.

17.) Legalization advocates and foes use billboards to get their message across — though pot-prohibitionists could use a proofreader for their ads, two of which contained errors.

16.) MATFORCE, the central-Arizona anti-substance-abuse group, celebrates its 10th anniversary in August with a shout-out to New Times , which recently had pointed out inaccurate information the group published.

15. The day after New Times reported that Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk had directed $50,000 in RICO funds to be used for an anti-legalization campaign, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich withdrew an opinion that allowed public funds to be spent on political campaigns.

14.) Gregg Levondoski, a qualified patient under Arizona law who's HIV positive and has cancer, is arrested in Apache County for growing slightly too many plants and employing too little security than the law allows, causing concern among Arizona cannabis activists. 

13.) Arizona State University student and qualified patient Andre Maestas is found guilty of possessing marijuana on a college campus — he's now challenging the law at the Arizona Court of Appeals.

12.)  The Southwest Cannabis Conference and Expo rolled into the Phoenix Convention Center, attracting thousands of people interested in marijuana-related information and business ideas — and also prompting a "polite" threat by Maricopa County Bill Montgomery about the possibility of undercover officer lurking about.  

11.) The Arizona Court of Appeals overturns a lower court's controversial decision that patients could sell marijuana to other patients under state law.

10.) Alberto Gutier of the Arizona Governor's Office of Highway Safety decides that, in part because of inquiries by the New Times , accident reports in Arizona will add check-boxes — possibly as soon as next year — for whether marijuana was involved and and to state whether a driver had a medical-marijuana card. 

9.) Polling on next year's likely legalization measure showed that voters are split about 50-50 on the issue, meaning every vote will be crucial next November.

8.) Sheila Polk publishes a controversial op-ed statewide claiming that the deaths of 62 kids "resulted from" marijuana. State health officials later confirmed she was wrong.

7.) The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that the scent of marijuana alone was no longer a sufficient reason for police to obtain a search warrant.

6.) A new milestone was reached for the Arizona Medical Marijuana program: 80,000 patients, and still growing.

5.) In an interview with the Denver Westword, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was surprisingly upbeat on marijuana and said that reports of a "disaster" in his state because of legalization, — touted by Arizona pot prohibitionists —  weren't true. 

4.) Medical-marijuana dispensaries opened in Nevada, selling to residents and card-holding patients from Arizona and other states.

3.) Zander Welton, the heroic little kid with a rare brain condition whose court case forced local prosecutors to follow state law on cannabis concentrates, dies at age 7.

2.) The Arizona Supreme Court ends "zero tolerance" in the state for marijuana DUIs, allowing defendants to try to prove that they weren't impaired even if a toxicology test reveals the presence of THC in their blood.

1.) Estimates from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and from an independent group showed that Arizona schools could reap $40- to 72 million annually by legalizing marijuana.

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