Legalizing “Marijuana” in Arizona – Hindsight is 2020
By Kathy Inman, Director of MomForce AZ
The word marijuana is in quotes because it is a nickname for a long-underestimated and stigmatized plant that is currently healing the nation. Cannabis is the botanical term for marijuana, and it is about to become legal in Arizona, provided we all do our homework. It’s campaign season again and the usual players are already out in full force, looking for your signature to “Legalize It”. As someone who won a Best of Phoenix award for cannabis advocacy and has taken a stand for the cause in our state since 2007, I feel an obligation to document history for those new to Arizona.
I began standing up for cannabis as an alternative to alcohol to save some lives from overdose. My father died at 43 after years of alcohol use and abuse that began in high school, and I felt I could make a difference by speaking up. I knew cannabis had never taken a life, but I could not have foreseen what I was about to learn. When Arizona obtained medical rights in 2010, I began to learn how many pills people were taking and how many they could replace by using cannabis as medicine. I witnessed mothers getting their life and health back by switching to (what I thought was) a “recreational” drug. How could this be? I began to learn what many have known for thousands of years- cannabis is probably the best all-purpose medicine available. It has been patented by the U.S. government as a neuroprotectant and an antioxidant. It has never taken a life. It was improving my friends’ lives, and what’s more- they were taking their kids off the multiple prescriptions they had been on. Their kids were getting their quality of life back. They were beginning to heal their bodies and remove the cloud of improper diagnosis due to quick and insensitive medical attention. Many doctors prescribe away their patients and move on to what’s next. They rarely offer anything but a pill to remedy, prompting many people to take their health into their own hands through online resources.
I found information from the National Cancer Institute about how THC kills cancer cells, and realized they have known about this since 1974. I began to meet people who had turned their diagnosis around by using cannabis oil concentrates. I have not shut up since. Be sure to read next month’s blog, titled Five Years of MomForce AZ, to learn more about our organization. Today we’re here to talk about legalizing cannabis in Arizona.
When I decided to help change cannabis laws in our state almost twelve years ago, I didn’t think it could be that hard. After all, we are a state that appreciates life and liberty, so how tough could it be to pass laws that would enable people to freely access something that doesn’t hurt them? Surely our lawmakers wouldn’t mind cannabis, what with all of the alcohol in our state. It could only slow down aggravated assault, drunk driving, domestic violence, teen overdose, and a whole host of other violent offenses, right? Wrong. Some lawmakers in Arizona have been acting like the sky is falling and the world will come to a screaming halt if cannabis becomes legal, despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary.
Arizona’s medical bill passed by a very slim margin, leaving medical cannabis open for scrutiny and attack by our lawmakers. The Arizona Department of Health set no standards, nor will they deliver any education. Many of our state lawmakers prefer to ignore the evidence and let the pharmaceutical companies control our health. Currently, the Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk is trying to take away concentrates from legal card holders, likely hoping she can help shut down the medical program she doesn’t believe in. She has been fighting cannabis at least as long as I have been standing for it. I applaud her antidrug stance for our kids, and I understand her worry that legalization could mean more addiction. The truth is honest, open education is breaking the cycle of addiction. Teens are using less marijuana in states that legalized cannabis.
Wasn’t Arizona the first state to pass medical in 1996?
Yes, we were but our lawmakers of the day got together and figured out how to take it away back then. They were able to repeal our medical cannabis rights passed in 1996 by splicing the wording. The initiative read “doctor’s prescription” instead of “doctor’s recommendation”. A prescription can only be written if it is federally legal, and cannabis is not. They were able to repealed it, and Arizona had to wait fourteen more years to use medical cannabis.
Why did medical cannabis pass by such a slim margin in 2010?
Arizona’s medical campaign was organized under the nonprofit Marijuana Policy Project. Many pro-cannabis people did not believe in “medical” cannabis and thought they should run a campaign for legalization instead. This split the vote in two and left us to pass by just under five thousand votes. This also occurred in 2016, but it was far worse. It is one thing to launch a campaign in genuine hopes that it will prevail, but it another thing entirely to launch a phony campaign simply to thwart legalization. That is what is happening to Arizona.
Why didn’t legal cannabis pass in 2016?
The Marijuana Policy Project (the nonprofit that brought Arizona’s medical rights and has changed laws across the nation for over twenty years) is the same group who legalized Colorado and brought Proposition 205, the initiative to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in 2016. This bill would have allowed possession of up to one ounce and grow allowance of six plants per person or twelve per household. Had it passed, we would all be growing our own medicine legally, and no one would need to purchase a medical card (every year, for $300.00) in Arizona. But it wasn’t enough for some long-time players in the grassroots cannabis community.
Initiatives don’t cost a thing to write and record. Anyone can file, obtain petitions, collect signatures and appear to be a campaign, no matter what their intent. Arizonans for Mindful Drug Regulation (AZfMR), headed by Jason Medar, started a campaign against Proposition 205. They even told people they didn’t think their initiative would get on the ballot. They were just there to spoil legalization for Arizona, and they are already out there talking about a new initiative. They stand for those who have been providing cannabis to consumers for decades, long before Arizona got medical rights. When I realized what these folks were doing, I admit I became a bit unhinged. After all the years standing together against prohibition, many of my friends were going to stand With Prohibition and vote No on 205 because of this movement. It has hurt me to the core to think anyone who understands how this medicine works could stand in the way of progress, and directly in the way of the patients who need help. I know plenty of providers who voted Yes to legal cannabis because it is the right thing to do. I appreciate those who took the risk to bring our neighbors cannabis (and only cannabis) these past decades, but I do not appreciate those who stand in the way of progress. Cannabis should be available for everyone, not just those who “know someone” or who can afford a card.
Safer Arizona was a big supporter of the AZfMR and has launched many of their own ill-fated campaigns. In 2016, their lawyer schooled them to tell voters that Proposition 205 was “a bad bill” written to create “a monopoly for oligarchs”. This could not have been further from the truth. If not for this deceptive skullduggery, we would all have the right to grow and possess cannabis in Arizona.
When every Arizonan can grow their own cannabis, that means access and lower prices for everyone. That is not a monopoly.
As the former volunteer State Director of Arizona NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), I contacted the national hub to let them know what was happening. I told NORML legal advisor and founder Keith Stroup what they were doing. He was kind enough to write a good blog, but he couldn’t convince his crony and Safer lawyer to support legalization. I suppose an Attorney for Cannabis would be out of business if no one gets arrested for possession.
These “no Fake Legalization” advocates made up five or six points (all false) and used the money given by hopeful legalizers to put huge ads in the New Times with no accountability for their lies. Kind Arizonans believed the grass roots and unknowingly voted No on 205 in 2016, to their own detriment.
I must thank the New Times for contacting me to see where the Prop. 205 ads were. I didn’t work on the campaign other than in a volunteer capacity, so I had no information. Had the campaign known the impact of those NT ads, I am pretty sure they would have combatted them. Hindsight is 20/20.
Arizona had a wonderful legalization team that put a whole new face on cannabis. We had a stellar lawyer with an ability to communicate facts in a personable and down-to-earth fashion. We had a smart, organized businessman for a chairman. He took no salary because cannabis relieved his young daughter from multiple daily seizures. We had a cheery, well-spoken political director. There were numerous professional women standing up and speaking out. I could not have been prouder to stand with them as one of the volunteer Moms, on our way to legalization.
We got enough signatures and the initiative got to the ballot. It is a little-known fact that in Arizona’s history we have never seen a volunteer signature drive make it to ballot. It is simply too huge a task, which is why funded campaigns like the MPP’s pay signature collectors. I believe it could be done, but so far we have not been able to get enough people involved and in agreement at the same time. This is the biggest challenge in the Arizona Cannabis Community- Unity.
Until the Arizona Dispensary Association and the Grassroots Cannabis Community agree upon and propel one initiative, it is very possible we may not pass legalization in 2020.
It is also possible that our legislature will be smart enough to pick up the legalization ball and run with it. In that scenario, we get no say about what goes into the initiative. Everyone in our entire community had a say in 2016. The grassroots fought the dispensary owners to keep grow rights in, and this weakened our campaign. Many don’t know this, but some big money donors pulled support for keeping grow rights in Propostion 205. This left us without the funds to properly advertise and fight the nonsense we saw from the prohibitionists. Nonetheless, I was happy to see grow rights in the bill. It made Proposition 205 fair for everyone. We will probably not see that from our legislature should they take this away. Losing legalization in 2016 has set our cause back four years and taken medicine out of the mouths of our most vulnerable neighbors.
As it turns out, Arizona is Ground Zero for the War on Drugs. Momfore is caught in the middle-standing for life, liberty, health, and safety. We represent the average, everyday consumer. Between the Pharmaceutical Companies’ desire to keep Arizona seniors under their control, the individuals and entities indebted to them, and the illicit market, the average cannabis consumer makes up a much slimmer portion of the majority than one may think. Every vote counts if you want to win in 2020.
They will continue to fight legal cannabis, bringing up the same out-dated rhetoric about the substance in an effort to scare our neighbors into voting No to legalization. Stand with us and against prohibitionists like Attorneys General Bill Montgomery and Sheila Polk. One thousand thank yous to Ray Stern at the New Times for his ongoing investigative reporting on the subject. They have a perpetual modern-day Reefer Madness campaign happening, and it is fueled by those with big paychecks and lots to lose when cannabis goes completely mainstream. Last election cycle, Sheila’s group Matforce and their political arm, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, took $500,000 from indicted opioid dealers, INSYS, to stop legal cannabis. The story made headlines around the world.
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk is a long-time, ardent opponent of legalization. As a Yavapai resident I am disheartened to find a county full of rehabs and teen alcoholism. I have implored her team at Matforce to understand cannabis. I have attended their meetings and tried to have an honest dialog, but they are not interested. I used to think this was because they were not open to a conversation about any drugs, but I now know they have no problem with the prescription drugs that are taking the lives of twenty-five kids in our state every month. I approached them in 2014 to ask them, as a mother, to consider focusing on heroin and methamphetamines. I reached out to our county attorney again when I moved to Yavapai last fall. She’s not interested in science. She cannot be concerned with health and safety or she would be paying attention. Today our opioid epidemic is worse than ever and meth has made a comeback, while Matforce has poured outlandish resources into their anti-cannabis crusade. As a mother I cannot imagine getting the call that my child went to a party and was not coming home. That never happens with cannabis, but it does happen with alcohol and pills. It happens to thousands of moms every year. Our state-awarded, Governor-granted, anti-drug organization should be pouring every last resource into opioid education. Instead I have watched while moms and grandmoms lose their young people to pills, when they could have been educated about the risks and the options.
Doug Ducey has ignored evidence along with this bunch. He is knee-deep and just as guilty of knowing the truth but standing with his reluctant, under-educated donors. Governor Ducey called every Arizonans the night before the election to tell them that Colorado schools never received a dime from the marijuana revenue, and that the Proposition 205 campaign was lying. He should be ashamed of himself for peddling this deceptive information, along with the entire gang of prohibitionists who didn’t mind bending the truth. Colorado officials actually called on Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy to stop lying.
Robert Leger, longtime editor of the Arizona Republic turned down my oped about heroin use in Mesa Schools in 2015. My facts came directly from a student witness. She and I took the information to the former Sheriff Joe Arpaio to thwart the activity and save some lives. The Sheriff listened and agreed with our assessment. When submitted to Leger, he bantered back and forth about my facts. I sent him links to the science. He continued to refuse my submission, and I have not heard back about any Letters submitted to the Editor since. Meanwhile, Matforce opinions are published on an ongoing basis, sometimes without any basis in Fact. Imagine how many parents could have kept a closer eye on their kids had that letter been published. Imagine how many lives could have been saved, had the truth been told. Robert Leger is now the Media Contact for Arizonans For Responsible Drug Policy.
Some Smoke Shops and Certification Clinics feared they would lose their business if cannabis became legal, so they joined the campaign in support of the “No Fake Legalization” movement. Proposition 205 would have kept our medical program in place, just like Colorado, so medical patients would not have to pay the recreational tax. The medical program was not going away, and neither were the smoke shops. These were scare tactics brought by a coordinated effort to suppress legalization. The Arizona Republic was good enough to do a Fact Check, proving the smoke shops’ false claims.
MomForce urges you to support businesses who supported your right to grow and possess cannabis, not the ones who stood in the way.
Understanding Cannabis Advocates
For many years, regular people have feared cannabis due to images of crowds of pot-smoking celebrations. These people are celebrating life and freedom. Many of them understand what this progress can do for our health. They are celebrating the freedom to use a less harmful alternative to alcohol for recreation. Some will over-indulge. That is why we need education. It’s time to clear the smoke to see the light.
I have always tried to educate those who don’t understand cannabis in hopes they will learn, heal, and teach others. It is hard for the mainstream to venture into the subject when they see dancing potleaves on the corner trying to “sell them medicine” from some crazy “doctor”. These businesses have diminished the medicine and hampered its progress. The professionals in this industry are the ones we respect, and the only ones we accept as our sponsors. There are many good people in this industry, and I thank every one of them for taking the risks and making the sacrifices they have to help others. I pray you will all work together to forward progress for this gentle and effective medicine.
Momforce will continue to focus on educating our neighbors about this medicine to help them realize renewed health, and in hopes our state will make the right decision in 2020. If you are someone who wants to see Arizona legalize cannabis in 2020, stay tuned. We will be watching the players to see who is rising to the top and who may have a chance to be on the ballot. We are non-biased and beholden to no one. We believe cannabis should be legal for all, like aspirin. We are here to help educate about the benefits and the risks.
If you see a petition for legalization, sign it. It doesn’t matter if it may not be on the ballot. It could be the one, and I don’t want you to miss that opportunity. In January 2020 we will be talking about who will be on the ballot and which campaigns can use your help. At that time, we are sure to dig in as well to help push Arizona over the required number of votes. Until then, keep educating by starting those conversation with friends, family, and coworkers.
Bless up, All. ☀️
There is no end to the good we can do together.