A ballot measure to legalize marijuana in Arizona in 2020 that has the support of major industry stakeholders was filed with the secretary of state on Friday.
The Smart & Safe Arizona Initiative would allow individuals 21 and older to possess, consume, cultivate and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. It would also create a pathway for individuals with prior convictions to have their records expunged and proposes using some tax revenue from legal sales to invest in communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Other revenue, which will be raised in part through a 16 percent excise tax on marijuana sales, would go toward the state’s community colleges and also fund public health and safety programs as well as infrastructure projects.
Several provisions would directly benefit the medical marijuana companies currently operating in Arizona and who are supporting the initiative. For example, existing dispensaries in good standing with the state would get licensing priority to establish adult-use shops, with the Department of Health Services randomly selecting licensees for additional retailers after those are approved.
Dispensary chains MedMen, Harvest Health and Recreation and Curaleaf Holdings are reportedly among those funding the new legalization campaign.
But while the measure includes certain industry-friendly provisions, advocates applauded its inclusion of a home cultivation option. A medical cannabis industry association based in New York faced backlash from advocates earlier this year after it was reported that it sent a document to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recommending that the state prevent consumers from growing their own marijuana at home.
MedMen was among the companies listed as members of the association at the time, though a representative later told Marijuana Moment that the business supports giving adults the right to grow their own cannabis.
There are some significant restrictions on edibles included in the initiative. Marijuana products that look like candy marketed toward children (i.e. gummy bears and gummy worms) wouldn’t be allowed. And edibles would be limited to 10mg per serving.
For social justice-minded advocates, including equity provisions that acknowledge and attempt to repair the harms of the drug war, particularly on communities of color, is critical to any legalization system. To that end, the Smart & Safe Arizona Initiative takes steps to address the issue.
Individuals with prior low-level cannabis convictions would be empowered to petition for an expungement, and if those applicants meet the requirements to have their records cleared, they must be approved unless law enforcement proactively intervenes and provides “clear and convincing evidence” that the petitioner is ineligible.
Marijuana tax revenue that’s deposited in a new “Justice Reinvestment Fund” would be used to fund grants for equity-centric programs within county health departments and the state health services department.
The initiative defines “justice reinvestment programs” that would qualify for grants as those that support “jail diversion, workforce development, industry specific technical assistance and mentoring services” for disproportionately impacted communities, those that address “the underlying causes of crime and reducing the prison population,” those that facilitate expungements and those that provide “evidence-based” substance abuse treatment.
“I’m encouraged to see major initiatives include expungement and community investment as vital pieces of the proposal,” Jason Ortiz, vice president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Marijuana Moment. “This is yet another example of social equity programs being the gold standard for any legalization bill, and we look forward to more closely reviewing this initiative and offering our support to help advance justice for communities of color in Arizona.”
Mikel Weisser, state director of Arizona NORML, told Marijuana Moment that “this language serves as both a 2019 state-of-the-art cannabis program and reflects the mindset of the ‘average’ Arizona voter.”
“I do not expect the concerns we faced from the existing cannabis community about insufficient provisions,” Weisser said. “This round the campaign is trying to reach out to a MUCH wider community. Arizona has shifted towards supporting cannabis in general and this language better reflects the real life experience of the cannabis consuming public than 2016 did.”
Arizona ACLU board member Roopali Desai, along with advocates from the Drug Policy Alliance and Law Enforcement Action Partnership, helped draft the initiative language while soliciting input from multiple industry stakeholders, according to Arizona Cannabis Monthly.
Advocates must collect 237,645 valid signatures from voters by July 2, 2020 in order to put the measure on the ballot.
While the marijuana reform movement has scored numerous victories throughout the ballot process in recent years, Arizona activists face a unique challenge given that the state’s voters rejected a legalization proposal in 2016 and only narrowly approved a medical cannabis legalization initiative in 2010.
Also working against organizers is the fact that Gov. Doug Ducey (R) is no fan of legalization and recently applauded the rejection of the 2016 measure.
With industry backing and a growing appetite for reform nationwide, however, it seems likely that activists will have more to work with heading into 2020 if the measure qualifies for the ballot.
Read the full text of the proposed Arizona marijuana legalization initiative below:
Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash.
Andrew Yang Peddles Marijuana-Themed Presidential Campaign Merchandise
2020 candidate Andrew Yang announced on Saturday that his campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is rolling out a line of marijuana-themed merch.
The limited edition products blend Yang’s love of mathematics with his support for cannabis reform. A t-shirt being offered for $30 simply says, “Math. Money. Marijuana.” And a now-sold-out baseball cap says “Math” on the front and displays a cannabis leaf on back. There’s also a bumper sticker that says, “Legalize Marijuana.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Buttigieg Pledges To Decriminalize Possession Of All Drugs In First Term As President
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a comprehensive plan on Friday that calls for “decriminalizing all drug possession” in his first presidential term as a means to combat the opioid epidemic and treat addiction as a public health, rather than criminal justice, issue.
Decriminalization is just one action the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said he’d pursue in order to reform the country’s mental health care system and bolster substance abuse treatment. His plan also includes proposals to reduce sentences for drug offenses other than possession, increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and make it easier to implement syringe exchange programs.
America’s addiction and mental health care crisis has been building for decades—due to decades of neglect by political leaders in Washington. Today, I’m proposing a new approach that tackles this crisis with the urgency and care it deserves. pic.twitter.com/U8F9DXJPC2
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 23, 2019
Buttigieg’s “Healing and Belonging in America” plan emphasizes the need to divert people suffering from addiction away from prisons and into treatment. He said he’d accomplish that by expanding diversionary programs and evidence-based training “for drug courts, mental health courts, and other alternatives to incarceration for justice-involved persons.”
The goal of decriminalization and diversion is to reduce “the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75 percent in the first term.”
Our country is in the midst of a mental health and addiction crisis, worsened by decades of stigma and political neglect. I’ll bring a new approach, rooted in commitment and community, to tackle this crisis with the urgency it deserves. https://t.co/spBoh5KH4X
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 23, 2019
Under his plan, sentencing reform for drug offenses other than possession would be applied retroactively and coupled with expungements for past convictions. Buttigieg pointed to research demonstrating that “incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths” and instead “actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”
“We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this public health problem.”
“To ensure that people with a mental illness or substance use disorder can heal, we will decriminalize these conditions,” the proposal states. “When someone is undergoing a crisis or is caught using a drug, they should be treated by a health professional rather than punished in a jail cell.”
“All presidential candidates should join Pete Buttigieg in recognizing that the criminalization of people for their drug use is wrong and simply bad policy,” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Action, said in a press release. “Possession of drugs for personal use is the single most arrested offense in the United States, eclipsing arrest rates for any other offense. With overdose numbers skyrocketing and entire communities, disproportionately black or brown, suffering from criminalization, it’s time for policymakers to shift gears. Taking an evidence-based, health-centered approach to address this crisis is not only true leadership – it’s common sense.”
The mayor also made harm reduction policies a key component of his strategy. He said take-home naloxone programs would be expanded to all 50 states by 2024 and that harm reduction services would be expanded “to reduce overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases related to needle sharing.”
The plan would make naloxone “broadly available in order to reverse overdoses” and remove “legislative and regulatory restrictions on the use of federal funds for syringe service programs.”
Buttigieg said the federal government should provide funding for state and local health departments to purchase the medication, make sure that it’s “available in public spaces and workplaces” similar to first aid kids and encourage “co-prescribing of naloxone with opioids, either by individual physicians or direct dispensing by pharmacists.”
Existing federal law makes it difficult to establish syringe exchange programs, in part because federal funds can’t be used to buy needles. The restrictions “hamper state and local responses, both because they limit resources and because they convey a negative message about the value of these programs, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they can prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis.”
In addition to lifting those barriers, the candidate said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “would also work with states to remove any criminal liability for those participating in” syringe exchange programs.
“Harm reduction programs are a critical part of any effective response to the opioid and injection drug use crisis. They minimize the negative impact of drug use without encouraging it, while reducing other side effects of drug use. In particular, this means access to syringe service programs for people who inject drugs, that link them to treatment, and provides access to sterile syringes. These programs help prevent transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other infectious diseases associated with needle sharing, and reduce overdoses by deploying medication such as naloxone that help reverse the effects of opioids.”
One harm reduction policy that didn’t make the cut in Buttigieg’s plan is safe injection sites, where people could use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who could reverse overdoses and recommend treatment options. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who are also running for the Democratic nomination, both proposed legalizing such facilities as part of criminal justice reform plans they released this month.
“Decades of failed mental health and addiction policy, coupled with mass incarceration that criminalized mental illness and drug use, have left us with a mental health and addiction care system so broken that today there are more people with serious mental illness in prisons than in treatment facilities,” Buttigieg said.
The candidate also made ending incarceration for drug possession—as well as legalizing marijuana—central principles of his previously released criminal justice reform plan, which he released last month.
But while the prior plan did not explicitly describe the move as “decriminalizing” drugs, even though advocates commonly use that word to refer to policies that remove the threat of being imprisoned for possession, the new document does use that terminology—signaling a shift in clarity as Buttigieg continues to develop his campaign messaging.
In other instances, he borrowed language from his criminal justice reform plan, specifically as it concerns how criminalizing drug use can increase rates of overdose, for his mental health proposal.
“Despite equal rates of use, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for using marijuana,” the criminal justice plan states. “Research shows that incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths. In fact, some studies show that incarceration actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”
Buttigieg mentioned that, as with drug offenses, black people are also more likely to die from overdoses. And that’s due to “the current broken system that criminalizes mental illness and addiction” that was “built during the crack epidemic of the 1980s.”
This story was updated to include comment from the Drug Policy Action.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.
White House Drug Officials Say Legal Marijuana Is Up To States
Two top federal drug officials, including the White House drug czar, recently said that marijuana legalization should be left up to states.
The comments stand out coming from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has historically played a central role in defending blanket federal prohibition.
Jim Carroll, the Trump-appointed drug czar who directs the administration’s drug policies, told Fox 59 reporter Kayla Sullivan that he considers legalization a states’ right issue. He added that he’d like to see targeted education campaigns concerning cannabis use during pregnancy and underage usage as well as research into impaired driving.
Got the answer: He believes it should be left up to the state. However, he does want to educate people on the effect marijuana has on young brain development, pregnant women and wants to come up with better guidance & testing for marijuana while driving. https://t.co/eifryNJB1j
— Kayla Sullivan (@KaylaReporting) August 14, 2019
It’s a particularly notable position given that federal law stipulates that the drug czar is required to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana.
Even if Carroll’s remarks arguably don’t directly violate that statute, they are significant in that he doesn’t seem to have taken the opportunity to proactively oppose state legalization efforts when asked by a reporter.
Anne Hazlett, senior advisor at ONDCP, also weighed in on cannabis legalization on Wednesday, telling CentralIllinoisProud.com that marijuana legalization is “a state decision.”
“Marijuana is an ongoing challenge that is being addressed in many of our states,” she said. “This is a state decision, and we would like to see additional research done so that these decisions being made at a state level are being made in a manor that is fully informed.”
Though the comments from Carroll and Hazlett seem to reflect an evolving understanding of the federal government’s role in imposing prohibition on the states, the ONDCP director has previously made clear he’s not enthusiastic about the burgeoning legal market.
During a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in May, Carroll raised concerns about THC potency in marijuana products, saying “the marijuana we have today is nothing like what it was when I was a kid, when I was in high school.”
“Back then the THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you high, was in the teens in terms of the percentage,” he said. “Now what we’re seeing is twice that, three times that, in the plant.”
He also said that more research is needed and that the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as the Department of Health and Human Services are “working hard to make sure that we understand the impact of legalization of marijuana on the body.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.