BY MIKEL WEISSER
As the state director of NORML, I get asked what I think about the new Smart and Safe Arizona 2020 Legalization Initiative. I answer, “I like it, but more than that. I helped write it!” I think this package of provisions is about the best we can do at this time to start this long overdue change.
Since the failure of 2016 another 30,000 Arizonans have been arrested for cannabis possession. I committed myself and Arizona NORML to making ourselves as central as possible to any 2020 campaign to make sure our values were protected. We went in expecting a one ounce possession provision and brought a list of five minimum expectations. We came back with all that and more.
- One Ounce Possession and Transport–You can shop, share, shape and all sorts of other things w it. You don’t have to be paranoid to have it.
- Homegrow—6 plants per person, 12 per household, grown in an enclosed, locked not visible facility, not accessible to minors. You can even give a person up to six plants at a time …
- W protected harvest—harvests grown on the premises can stay on the premises. Does that mean that some guy could grow six plants really, really well for years and years and some day have all this weed and try to break the law with it and western civilization will collapse? In theory, yeah, I guess, but that’s like a one in ten zillion kind of scenario and Arizona only has seven million people. Paranoid people then wonder, but won’t your neighbors narc you out? Well, if you’re a jerk, but–
- Odor of marijuana is no longer probable cause–Raw or burnt, no longer is reason to be searched, detained, even questioned. It’s NOT a crime to possess cannabis. It’s no longer suspicious to smell like that.
- Patients keep their cards and keep their rights–AND all the new laws, like urban grow rights, effectively ending the 25 mile rule (well for 6 plants instead of 12, but still). That’s why many will keep their medical cards: for the higher possession limits, larger edibles dosages and lower taxes. Also they now last two years.
- DUI to the slightest degree–is for the time being the best of possible worlds. Nobody wants impaired drivers on our roads. But, cannabis is proving to not be nearly as impairing as the reefer mad propagandists have suggested. In fact, in May, the Congressional Research Service said their studies suggest cannabis not only doesn’t make a driver statistically more likely to have a wreck, it actually makes them safer … in most cases. But, nobody wants impaired drivers on the road, whether it be lack of sleep, alcohol, or anything else. So, if a driver is shown to be impaired, THEN the discussion of cannabis begins.
- Dependency Court–About 4 pages in, section, 36-2852 the initiative breaks down the protected rights of cannabis consumers. In the opening paragraph of the section, the initiative makes this sweeping protection:
Cannabis Use CANNOT Be Used to Justify the: “IMPOSITION OF PENALTIES OF ANY KIND UNDER THE LAWS OF THIS STATE OR ANY LOCALITY, OR FOR ABROGATING OR LIMITING ANY RIGHT OR PRIVILEGE CONFERRED OR PROTECTED BY THE LAWS OF THIS STATE OR ANY LOCALITY.”
You cannot have your rights to your kids abrogated or limited for possessing cannabis …
- Professional licenses—and you also cannot have your professional state licenses revoked for cannabis unless it is a federally enforced position.
- Taxes at 16%– but that is not the base tax, that is the total state tax. That money goes back to the localities so they don’t have to tact on additional taxes. In California local taxes have made some tax rates as high as 42%. With prices like that the underground market remains incentivized. If the federal government decides to get on board the legalization train and tries to add their own taxes, the total combined tax can’t be more than 30%.
- Landlord and employer protections—Of course, landlords and bosses will still get to decide what you can do on their property or at their businesses.
- Tested product—All cannabis products will be tested. We just finished winning this battle at the state Capitol in May.
- Defelonization—I would like everyone to have as much cannabis as they could possibly want. AND, who knows, once we get to that point, how long it will take for folks to get tired of having all those old stale bales of buds lying around. But for now, for 2020, the American standard is one-ounce possession (five grams of wax). This program defelonizes low-level possession making it a petty offense from over one ounce up to two and a half ounces or twelve grams of shatter. After that, for now, the initiative defaults to state statute which calls anything larger a class six felony. Larger than two pounds, it is an even worse felony.
- Expungement—if you’ve ever been arrested in Arizona and have charges for less than an ounce, six or fewer plants or paraphernalia, you can get those charges removed from your record, the record sealed and inadmissible in future cases.
- Justice Reinvestment—Expungement is just one aspect of social justice reforms in this initiative and a monstrously destructive policy like cannabis prohibition requires restorative justice. This initiative earmarks funds for developed over-policed communities and retraining law enforcement to pay attention to crimes and not cannabis.
- Paraphernalia Corrected—in 2016, potentially ambiguous language on paraphernalia caused many smoke-shops to speak out against Prop205. This initiative protects paraphernalia in every way possible.
It’s a 2020 Kinda Market
—To not comment about this here, makes the rest of the list seem suspect. This initiative protects the existing power players in the transition to an adult use market. No doubt about it. Don’t I care? Not as much as some will. So, here’s my comment: For the crowd who wants a single vote to undo three years of market evolution? Won’t happen. Shoulda voted yes on Prop205. You knew I would say that at some point, there it’s done.
Some of you may also recall voices in the wilderness shouting, “Invest in the program so you too can set policy. Put in the time and energy to make sure social justice is addressed. Invest dollars big enough to fuel a ten-million-dollar campaign and you too can set business terms..”
Now, you can hear those same voices saying “told ya so.” Cuz, we did.
So, Listen Up:
To be sure, there are few people who have spent more time contemplating the role of cannabis in the American Dream. Since 2015 I have slept on PHX-area floors and couches two hundred miles from my family so I could have a chance to reform marijuana laws. As the industry has evolved, our opportunity to make change has shifted.
Go back and look at the small business opportunities in cultivation and processing/manufacturing MPP fought to include in 2015 in Prop205. Back then the still nascent market had room for upstart startups. Now, not so much.
By the time the 2020 election cycle came into play, the dominant forces in the Arizona medical cannabis industry are mega companies like Harvest, Curaleaf and MedMen with multiple locations near you.
Besides these giants, smaller chains, verticals with multiple aligned brands, bouquet cannabis cultivators and/or extractors, rural mom ‘n pops, and every other permutation of the above are factors in the current market and will still be there in the future market. Last year it was nearly half a billion dollars. With hemp and CBD thrown into for good measure, the Arizona cannabis economy could go from zero to one billion dollars in less than a decade. And, so far, that’s just off saving people’s lives and helping sick people feel better.
Capitalists like me think that is the kind of success that should be celebrated, and rewarded, like the development of electricity, communications, and other 21st century technologies. Forty-year stoners like myself, KNOW this medical program already feels like victory, next to where I have been and what I have smoked.
I also like the AMMA’s twenty-dollar eighths, hundred-dollar (or lower) ounces, infectious high energy, staggering variety of innovation and numerous BOGOs in a market that offers hundreds of different brands with literally tens of thousands of different skews, employing about six thousand workers and serving nearly two hundred thousand patients. I applaud that kind of invention and accept that it only comes at an economy of scale. Capitalist that I am, I am glad it’s making millionaires, though it’s highly unlikely I’ll become one.
The Long and the Short
In Arizona this election cycle, the larger players in the cannabis industry are the backbone of funding the 2020 campaign. I believe in funding the way I believe in the market, the way I believe in gravity; I can strategize all I want but reality will win. Money makes campaigns. I promise you, campaigners began working on 2020 legalization the day after 2016 legalization failed. We called for investors for several years, pointing out their opportunity to open up the market. Ya know, who came forward? The big players because they believed us when we said, that investing in the campaign is the right thing to do.
Negotiating from that position, they could dictate terms.
That is the long and short of how the business structure wound up this way. My job with Arizona NORML is to end prohibition, not to dictate winners and losers, not to get rich or try to decide who else gets to. But, as someone who did invest time and energy to help shape the consumer rights section of the program (36-2852 excerpted above), I can tell you that the things I went looking to influence, I did help shape. Parental rights, the harvest, transport possession versus at-home possession, license protections, and concentrate manufacture exemptions, all had my involvement in drafting the specific language. Homegrow and expungement were always already baked in, BTW.
Putting Your Two Cents In
These features and dozens more happened because people who believe their two cents matters, put it in: gave of themselves to make sure the campaign addressed their concerns, not just crossed their fingers and hoped for the best, but actively stepped up and got involved.
This campaign took an extraordinarily long time gathering public commentary from people like me putting our two cents in. They announced in March, filed in August, all that time, they were collecting input. I was only one in a very long list of people who Strategies 360 and Rapooli Desai listened to in drafting this document.
But reality is we put in our two cents, not the ten million dollars, and that is what it takes in 2020 to end the horrific mistake of prohibition in Arizona. Lots of people’s two cents … and several million dollars, and we’re all expecting some sort of return on our investment. Will it free the weed for everyone all at once? Of course not. Is it state-of-the-art legalization for 2020 America with further reform opportunities built right in? You betcha.
The name of this group is NORML, reforming marijuana laws. You know we work our butts off at the Capitol, you may not have known we helped draft this initiative, or during the off-season at the state legislature we are working with Phoenix and Tucson city halls to reform their marijuana laws as well. And in time, if this law needs refinement, we know how to do that. NORML has been reforming marijuana laws for fifty years.
But first, we have to make it real. AZ needs to educate itself, organize and get this baby on the ballot. Our opponents are already working day and night to stop us like they did last cycle. This victory can be ours. But we have to unite to take it.
—Mikel Weisser is the state director of the Arizona chapter of NORML, the editor of Arizona Cannabis News and staff on the Smart and Safe Arizona 2020 legalization campaign.