Three Big Developments in AZ MJ This Week. What You Need to Know
BY MIKEL WEISSER
Some weeks are just more interesting than others. On TV, they call it “Sweeps Week,” where all the top shows show off their most anticipated episodes. In AZ Marijuana, this week will hold more high-level landscape altering events than the entire month of February did. Three of the most closely watched and talked-about developments in the AZ cannabis community will happen in the next three days. Here’s how to get ready for the hottest water cooler talk this week.
Testing Bill Tested
In the latest from the sausage factory (AKA the Arizona state legislature), the fate of AZ’s latest brightest hope to establish testing still hangs in limbo, one week after a testy stakeholders meeting revealed divisions among the different visions for AZ testing. Though the bill, SB1494 sponsored by Sen David Gowan (R-LD14), passed on the Senate floor unanimously, it was heavily amended during the vote, prompting the dispensary industry to push for additional changes of their own. In the wake of the dispute, House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R-LD2) has proven slow to assign the bill to any committee till the stakeholders get on the same page. Meanwhile the legislative session timeline keeps ticking.
Bills now have less than two weeks to complete their hearings and House Rules Committee Chair Anthony Kern (R-LD20) has been hoarding dozens of bills in his committee gumming up the process (including HB2149, the legislature’s attempt to solve the concentrates crisis). Though Bowers has been slow to move forward on making the assignment, he is widely rumored to be ready to announce his decision this week, possibly as early as Monday. It’s still unclear whether or not the ADA (Arizona Dispensary Association) lobbyist, Pele Fischer’s proposed amendments will be added. If so the new amendments will have to survive a 3/4s House vote, which would then force the bill to return to the Senate to also approve the new amendments. Also unknown is how the dispensary industry will react if Fischer’s amendments aren’t added.
This week watch for Bowers to play his card and the ADA to react.
Concentrates Get Their Day in Court
Over the past year, NO topic in Arizona marijuana has been more important than the Jones Case. Tuesday, March 19th, nearly nine months to the day after 2 of 3 judges in Division One of the AZ Appeals Court rocked the cannabis world by declaring that concentrated marijuana products are not protected by the AMMA, Rodney Jones will get his day in the highest court in the land to appeal that decision. Jones’ lawyer, Robert Mandel, who is a practiced hand at battling cases at the appeals and supreme court level, will be facing AZ’s most notorious prohibitionist prosecutors, Yavapai County’s Sheila Polk who, with zero scientific basis, has likened concentrates to fertilizer bombs. Polk’s prosecution of the case led State Attorney General Mark Brnovich to wash his hands of the whole thing, citing pediatric cannabis patients who depend on CDB oils and tinctures.
Saying that the entire state’s medical marijuana industry and patient community are hanging in the balance is not an overstatement in the least. Since the Jones verdict, dozens of patients in almost every county have been harassed and or arrested for possessing not only products like wax, RSO, and tinctures, but even comparatively innocuous items like vape pens and gummy bears. Some estimate as much as 60% of the current cannabis market in AZ falls into one category of concentrated marijuana product or another.
While Jones himself has already served his time for the class four narcotics cannabis felony charge, the fate of dozens of defendants around the state who have been charged since the ruling hang in the balance. So does the future of AZ’s cannabis industry. If the Jones ruling is upheld, then companies that have consciously manufactured concentrated cannabis products since the June 26th appeals ruling could not only be liable for massive manufacturing and trafficking charges, but are also likely to face a torrent of civil suits by patients who have been endangered by the dispensary industry’s decision to continue marketing concentrates despite the risks patients have faced.
Despite the urgency of the moment, it may still be weeks or even months until the Supreme Court’s final verdict is announced. The Jones Case is just one case on their heavy docket. Defense attorney Robert Mandel expects to hear the decision sometime this summer. Due to the attention the case has received, opening arguments will be held in an auditorium at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law. Expect long lines if you want to try to attend this one. More than 250 ASU law students have already reserved seats in the 300-seat theater.
MITA Hosts 2020 First Look
That said, whether you knew it or not, the very next day, Wednesday March 20th, is the actual day we’ve all been waiting for. 2020 unofficially begins that night at the monthly Arizona Marijuana Industry Trade Association (MITA-AZ) meeting when feature speaker, ADA chair/Harvest Health and Recreation owner, Steve White, announces a first look at the group’s proposed 2020 legalization initiative.
Though the initiative is probably still months away from being filed and beginning the signature collection process, their initial draft has easily been the most anticipated document in AZ marijuana since 2016’s Prop 205 legalization initiative failed by less than two percent out of the over two point two million votes cast. While most prognosticators attribute much of the failure to Sheila Polk’s NO-on-Prop205 campaign, which raised more than $6 million to oppose Prop205, virtually all post mortems on the election cite personal missteps of the campaign chair, ADA president at the time, JP Holyoak, and the state’s cannabis community’s resistance as major factors that stopped the initiative from passing.
In April of 2015 when MPP and the ADA debuted their final draft Prop205, activists around the state rose up in wrath, claiming the ballot measure was merely an industry power grab with insufficient consumer protections. Led by Safer Arizona, the community launched into an 18 month No-Vote movement that even launched its own competing initiative to diminish Prop205 support. In the end the ballot measure failed by less than 58,000 votes. With no organized opposition on the horizon similar to 2016’s AZFMR or Safer Arizona, opposition to an ADA-led campaign is expected to be minimal, but that could change if the 2020 language still contains 2016-style flaws.
Knowing the stakes, expect the over-crowded hall at Phoenix’s Foundre Hotel to be hanging on White’s every word. Also, at the podium that night, Jones Case attorney, Mandel is scheduled to recap the court hearing highlights and give the audience an idea of what to expect as they await the final verdict. With so many high stakes developments in the works this week, AZ marijuana may need some time to recover by Friday. No matter what happens, Arizona Cannabis Monthly will be there.
—Mikel Weisser is the editor of the Arizona Cannabis Monthly and state director of the AZ chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).