The Obligatory Year in Review Piece

It’s written somewhere that every publication on the planet MUST start each new year with some kind of year-in-review article. Well, we’re no exception. 2018 was a huge news year for AZ Cannabis. Here’s some of the highlights:

Top 5 2018 National Marijuana News Stories

  1. Canada Legalizes—OK, you’re right, that technically qualifies as international, but have no doubt, North America will never be the same after Oct 17 when Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made good on his election promise to legalize cannabis in the world’s second largest country. A national system of stores, and production facilities are already developed and stock in Canadian Cannabis giants like Aphria and Canopy Growth have skyrocketed. At last, the legendary BC Buds can finally be shipped by mail … legally that is.
  2. FDA & DEA Approved a Cannabis-Based CBD Product—The whole myth that cannabis has zero medicinal value was thrown out the window in June when GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex, an anti-seizure medication made from cannabis extracts, received FDA and DEA approval. Epidiolex was in fact scheduled as Class Three, a product of clear medicinal value and low addiction risk. With a first cannabis product approved and available in pharmacies around the country, expect the floodgates to open at last for federally accepted medicinal cannabis products.
  3. Farm Bill Legalizes Hemp—After being banished from American agriculture for more than 80 yrs., history’s most important plant was finally relegalized in America in December when Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which included provisions that ended the 1937 federal prohibition on industrial hemp, allowing states to develop their own programs. States like Arizona who already approved hemp at the state level are rushing to get seeds in the ground to quickly grow what is expected to become a ten-billion-dollar a year agricultural commodity.
  4. Sessions Sent Packing—The most obnoxious prohibitionist since Harry Anslinger, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, spent two years as the scourge of the cannabis community, even going so far as to rescind the Cole Memo, threatening MMJ programs across the country. However, public opinion and congressional resistance kept the mouth of South somewhat in check till the day after the 2018 midterms, when Sessions was shown the door and all of the American cannabis community breathed a collective sigh of relief.
  5. Election Cleans House/ Ballot Measures Soar—What a difference a day makes! The Democrats’ “Blue Wave” washed away many of nation’s biggest roadblocks on the path to legalization. Overnight top Congressional prohibitionists in the US House like Pete Sessions and Bob Goodlatte were out and sympathetic reformers like Massachusetts’ Jim McGovern took over their committee chairmanships. Michigan became the tenth state to outright legalize while Utah, and Missouri passed medical marijuana initiatives joining Oklahoma who passed their medical program during the state’s primary in June. Elsewhere governors in Connecticut, Minnesota, Illinois, New York and New Jersey got elected on legalization platforms. For years we have been told elections matter. Now we’ll see.

Of course, AZ had our own share of earth-shattering news stories.

Top 5 2018 Arizona Marijuana News Stories

  1. Concentrates Crisis—It’s the story that continues to dominate Arizona’s legal cannabis world, the Yavapai County Rodney Jones Case that declared any product made from cannabis concentrates to be a class four felony. From the shocking appeals court ruling in late June, to rural dispensaries slashing their profits by yanking concentrates off the shelves, to Chandler patients getting harassed outside of stores, to shaping the recent state election, no other cannabis issue in AZ has commanded so much attention or had higher stakes. If concentrates such as wax, vapes and edibles are ruled to be class four felony narcotics as much as 40% of industry revenues go up in smoke. Now that the Supreme Court has agreed to take up the case expect this case to dominate the news cycle come March. SEE our latest update here.
  2. Hemp Wins Finally –After more than ten years of efforts from a series of legislators, Lake Havasu City’s Senator Sonny Borrelli finally succeeded in getting hemp legalized as an agricultural commodity on his 3rd In 2017 Borrelli’s bill made it to the governor’s desk only to be vetoed. This year with the governor on board, virtually every state legislator voted yes. Hemp fever got even hotter at the end of the year when the Federal Farm Bill legalized hemp production across the country and set AZ’s hemp potential into overdrive. Accordingly, the Dept of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp Program has announced they will accelerate the rulemaking process, so AZ farmers can get seeds in the ground by May and bring in the state’s first industrial cannabis crops by the end of the year.
  3. Testing Bill Defeated—When AZ’s medical program was first approved in 2010, there were no established cannabis testing protocols in place, anywhere in America. Rather than leave the nascent industry stalled, then-DHS director Will Humble launched the program without requiring that the cannabis products being sold to medical marijuana patients face any testing requirements whatsoever. As a result, there were not even provisions in the law to legally test cannabis at independent laboratories, so no way to regulate the quality and safety of AZ’s medical cannabis products. When epidemics of tainted weed began to sicken medical patients in Northern California and a PHX dispensary was caught selling moldy MMJ, the call went out for reform. After helping create the testing protocols in the 2017 version of Borrelli’s hemp bill, AZ-NORML and MITA-AZ joined the senator in pushing for state-regulated testing and licensing for testers. The testing bill known as SB1420 became the first pro-medical cannabis piece of legislation to advance in the Arizona state legislature and made it all the way to a final vote at the end of the legislative session. Though it garnered a majority of support, party bickering prevented the bill from reaching the required ¾ to amend the AMMA. Already two new bills are in the works to revisit testing in the 2019 session. Expect fireworks on this one by mid-month.
  4. PHX Failed Tax Proposal—Easily the dumbest bit of 2018 news in all of AZ marijuana had to be the Phoenix City Council’s failed October attempt to rush through a massive tax on the city’s patient community. On a Thursday they announced their intention to enact a 30% medical marijuana tax, and, said they intended vote on the measure that following Tuesday. The tax was supposedly tied to public safety spending, based on research led by the firefighters and prepared by the mayor’s chief of staff, himself a member of the fireman’s union. They claimed the tax would raise as much as $50 million a year off the Phoenix-area patient community. Industry experts claimed it could kill the state’s entire marijuana market. Within hours every patient and industry cannabis organization in the area was in action. By the time the hearing started that Tuesday afternoon over 400 patients and industry leaders filled the main council chambers plus two overflow rooms. When the firemen and police chiefs tried to trot out their PowerPoint presentation on why the tax was necessary, Acting Mayor Thelda Williams had to browbeat the packed house like a petulant fifth grade teacher to maintain decorum, but found her own self repeatedly shouted down. Even worse, the provision itself proved to be full of holes. Councilmembers complained they had been as blindsided as the public. In the end Councilman Sal DiCicco coopted the rabble and led the council to unanimously vote the tax down. In the wake of the debacle, the mayor’s chief of staff, Bryan Jeffries, found himself summarily fired. Fallout from the foolhardy effort quickly metastasized into a critical campaign issue in the Phoenix Mayoral race just a month later when former city councilmembers Kate Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela faced off as the odds-on favorites in a crowded four-person race. Turned out Gallego had helped her mom recover from cancer with cannabis and vehemently opposed the tax, while Valenzuela, dodged question on the topic and, a as fireman, was widely presumed to be associated with the tax. Turns out the tax cost him dearly. Though neither candidate earned the necessary 50% vote to be elected outright, Gallego’s 44% gave her a 16% advantage on Valenzuela ahead of the upcoming March runoff election.
  5. Supreme Court Reverses On-Campus MMJ Possession Position—One evening back in 2015 medical marijuana patient Andre Maetas was just a happy college freshman at ASU’s Tempe campus out admiring the night beauty when campus security asked him if he was a patient. The next thing he knew, Maetas, who was also a member of the campus Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter, was not only facing expulsion, but also dealing with wrongly enhanced cannabis felony possession charges for having medical cannabis on a college campus. Knowing the charges were unfair, Andre chose to fight. AZ-NORML legal counsel Tom Dean agreed to handle the case; and thus, began Andre’s four-year journey to an Arizona Supreme Court ruling that both freed college cannabis patients from fear of prosecution and chastised state lawmakers who overstepped their bounds by tacking on additional penalties for patients attending public colleges.

Honorable Mentions: National brands like MedMen and Curaleaf leapt into the AZ market as 2018 year-end totals approach the half-billion-dollar mark, while homegrown Harvest of Tempe grews to become one of the national industry’s biggest multi-state players. By year’s end AZ’s patient count grew 20% to top 180,000 medical marijuana patients who are buying an average of six tons of finished flower per month. In April Governor Doug Ducey, long an ardent prohibitionist, met with industry leaders to discuss cooperation in shaping the future of the AZ industry. In March, an even larger figure, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, was the keynote speaker for MITA-AZ. Jim Morrison’s Errl Cup competitions continued to grow, literally like a weed, with three events in 2018 that attracted as many as seven thousand patients and a short-lived vapor lounge experiment. 2020 anticipation grew steadily through 2018 as Safer Arizona’s umpteenth initiative failed to catch fire once again and the ADA let it be known they have spent much of the past year crafting a legalization initiative they intend to unveil to the public this month.


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