Arizona's New Marijuana-Law Proposals Inspire Anything But High Hopes

It hasn't even been three weeks since Proposition 205 went down to defeat on election day, but advocates for cannabis-law reform in Arizona already have three new proposals to consider.

Here is a roundup of the three proposals:

1. Last week, the Arizona Marijuana Patient Society — a creation of the operators of the Independent Wellness Center, a medical-marijuana evaluation center in Apache Junction — filed its intention to place a citizens' initiative on the 2018 ballot.

The initiative would allow for roughly four times as many dispensaries (there are about 100 now), reduce the price of a medical-marijuana card from $150 annually ($75 for food-stamp recipients) to $10, expand the roster of ailments that qualify for the cards, allow state dispensaries to sell cannabis to people who have cards from other medical-marijuana-friendly states, and allow patients to grow up to 12 plants if they live more than one mile from an operating dispensary.

That last change would blow the lid off current cannabis-cultivation rules, which prohibit patients from cultivating if they live within 25 miles of a dispensary.

Under the current law, nearly all of the state's 108,000 patients are forbidden to grow their own pot. The proposed initiative would be particularly useful for patients in areas where municipalities (including Phoenix and Scottsdale) have previously limited dispensaries.

The initiative's chairman, Timothy Cronin, who co-owns and operates Independent Wellness Center with his brothers Joshua and William, needs to collect 150,642 valid voter signatures by July 2018 to make the general-election ballot.

Timothy Cronin told Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services that the effort would utilize volunteer petition-gatherers only, and that the current crop of patients in Arizona represents "a ready source of signatures."

Though it's theoretically possible for an all-volunteer effort to succeed, Cronin has his work cut out for him — if he follows through. Last year, he and the Patient Society filed its intent to launch an initiative to reform the medical-marijuana law. They never registered as a political committee or filed a campaign-finance report.

Cronin didn't return a message on Friday.

2. Arizona State Representative Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, announced plans to reintroduce his bill to legalize personal amounts of marijuana. The provisions are similar to those of Prop 205, allowing adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana with no penalty and cultivate freely on their own property.

The Republican-dominated legislature blocked his previous bill from getting so much as a committee hearing. The new one can probably expect a similar reception — despite recent advice from former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican, that lawmakers should reduce the penalty for an ounce or less of marijuana from a felony to a civil fine.

3. Safer Arizona, a pro-legalization group that helped defeat Prop 205, plans to launch a legalization initiative that would be far more expansive that the failed Prop 205. An online draft of the proposal seems to provide for no possession limits for anyone 20 or older, and adults could cultivate up to 99 plants.

The bill is even more permissive than the one filed last year by Arizonans for Mindful Regulation that was backed strongly by Safer Arizona leader Dave Wisniewski. After the AZFMR measure failed to make this year's ballot, the group's backers urged voters to reject Prop 205.

Whether Safer Arizona's 2018 legalization effort will fare better than AZFMR's did is another question. The AZFMR campaign, led by former California dispensary partner Jason Medar, collected only about $5,000 in cash donations and a few thousand more in donated goods and services. Its army of passionate volunteers around the state collected thousands of signatures, but AZFMR never bothered to assemble the scattered petitions or turn them in, leading to a schism within the group.

Considering all of the above, the chances of meaningful marijuana-law reform in Arizona by 2018 appear bleak. The national Marijuana Policy Project, which put Arizona's medical-marijuana law on the ballot in 2010 and now has several successful recreational-marijuana elections under its belt, hasn't announced any new plans for Arizona.

And bear in mind that even as Arizonans ponder, Donald Trump may be laughing. It remains to be seen whether the president-elect's choice for U.S. attorney general, former Alabama Governor Jeff Sessions — an outspoken foe of legal marijuana — is a harbinger of doom for the U.S. cannabis industry.

Trump promised before the election to respect the rights of state voters, and also said he fully supports medical marijuana. But Sessions has argued forcefully against both recreational and medical marijuana. He infamously said two decades ago that he liked the Ku Klux Klan until he found out they smoked marijuana and that "good people don't smoke marijuana."

CORRECTION: Independent Wellness Center is a medical-marijuana certification center, not a dispensary.