Arizona voters will have a chance to cast a ballot in support of recreational marijuana this coming November.
The initiative will hit the polls only four years after voters rejected a similar measure by a slim margin of 2.6 percent. However, a recent survey showed that over 62 percent of likely voters now support legalizing cannabis, suggesting a recent change of heart in the Grand Canyon State.
Supporters of the measure turned in a petition that had garnered over 420,000 raw signatures to Secretary of State Katie Hobb’s office in July. On August 10th, Hobb’s certified the signatures and added the initiative to the ballot under the name Prop. 207.
If approved, Prop. 207 would make it legal for adults in Arizona to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, so long as no more than five grams of that marijuana is in the form of concentrates. Arizonans would also be allowed to cultivate up to six cannabis plants in their homes. In homes with two or more adults, the allowance would go up to twelve plants total.
The measure requires the Department of Health Services to set forth the rules regarding retail sales by June 1, 2021. State and local sales taxes would be charged, as well as an additional 16 percent excise tax. The revenue from the taxes collected would be split between the state agencies responsible for overseeing the implementation of the law, fire departments, highways, community colleges, and a restorative justice fund.
Employers would still be allowed to ban marijuana in the workplace and prohibit potential applicants and current employees from using cannabis.
Prop. 207 will do more than simply legalize cannabis in Arizona. There are several provisions written to help those who have been impacted by the harsh realities of prohibition, including establishing a social equity program designed to issue licenses to members of communities that have been historically disproportionately targeted by cannabis laws. It would also allow Arizonans who have been previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes to petition for the expungement of their records.
Support for Proposition 207
Smart and Safe Arizona, where former House representative Chad Campbell (D-24) is a chairperson of the campaign committee, spearheads the initiative’s campaign.
“As the name says, smart and safe. It’s put together in a responsible way to sell this product to adults only, and it will generate revenue, much-needed revenue, for the state which is a win for everybody,” Campbell told Fox10 Phoenix. He estimates that legal cannabis will bring around $300 million in revenue a year.
Political consultant Stacy Pearson told KTVK, “[Prop. 207] does the right thing by providing an option for folks who were previously convicted of low-level marijuana charges to have their criminal records sealed, so they have fair access to jobs and housing. It frees up police to focus on real crime and hard drugs and unclogs the justice system, which is currently backlogged with minor offenses.”
Opposition to Proposition 207
Robert Leger, a spokesperson for Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, has concerns about what kind of signal legalization could send to young people.
“I think there’s a lot here to worry about. If you have a vote that says it’s OK to use it, I think those kids who might be on the fence might are more likely to say ‘The voters say it’s a good thing [sic] to have, it can’t be bad for us.’ I think it makes it more legitimate in the eyes of a teenager.” Leger said to KTVK
Contrary to what Leger believes, studies have shown that legal cannabis markets have not caused increased marijuana use by minors.
On Tuesday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced he was selecting Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate for the 2020 election.
Harris, a former prosecutor, has experienced an evolution regarding her views on marijuana prohibition during the last decade.
Views Prior to 2015
In 2003, Harris began her foray into electoral politics by challenging Democratic incumbent Terrence Hallinan for the San Francisco attorney general position. During the campaign, Harris criticized Hallinan’s office for its low conviction rate and vowed to take a tougher stance on crime. After successfully defeating Hallinan, Harris did just that. While at the helm, her office oversaw a 6 percent rise in marijuana convictions. Despite those high numbers, Paul Henderson, Harris’ chief of administration, stated, “Our policy was that no one with a marijuana conviction for mere possession could do any (jail time) at all.”
In 2010, while Harris was making a run for state attorney general, she came out against Proposition 19 — a bill designed to legalize and tax marijuana in California. Her campaign made the statement, “[Harris] supports the legal use of medicinal marijuana but does not support anything beyond that.”
Four years later, during re-election, she was flanked to the left by her Republican opponent Ron Gold who stated, “[marijuana] needs to be legalized immediately.” When told about Gold’s statement by a local news station, Harris simply laughed and said, “He’s entitled to his opinion.”
2015 Through the Present
In 2015 her position began to soften. During a speech at the California Democrats Convention, Harris came out in support of ending the federal ban on marijuana. She echoed this statement in 2016 after being elected to congress. Harris addressed noted marijuana prohibitionist Jeff Sessions directly while speaking at the Center for American Progress by saying, “Let me tell you what California needs, Jeff Sessions. We need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations and dealing with human trafficking – not in going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.”
She continued, “While I don’t believe in legalizing all drugs — as a career prosecutor, I just don’t — we need to do the smart thing, the right thing, and finally decriminalize marijuana.”
Her shifting views on cannabis prohibition became even more apparent in 2018 when Harris signed onto the Marijuana Justice Act — Presidential rival Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) far-reaching bill designed to end federal prohibition.
In 2019, Harris went a step further and co-sponsored the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE). The MORE Act called for not only complete federal legalization but also the expungement of prior marijuana convictions. It marked the first time in history a congressional committee has approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition.
“Right now in this country, people are being arrested, being prosecuted, and end up spending time in jail or prison all because of their use of a drug that otherwise should be considered legal,” Harris said in a press release regarding her involvement with the MORE Act.
“Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do; it’s the right thing to do. I know this as a former prosecutor, and I know it as a senator.”
Harris went on to co-sponsor the SAFE Banking act — an essential piece of legislation that would allow cannabis dispensaries access to financial institutions like banks and credit unions.
After spending nearly a decade behind bars for selling a small amount of marijuana, Derek Harris is finally going to be free to reunite with his loved ones.
Who is Derek Harris?
Derek Harris is a military veteran who served the United States during Operation Desert Storm. According to his family, when Harris returned home from overseas, he was a different man than the one who left to fight for his country. Like many others, after his time in the Gulf War, Harris developed a substance abuse problem. His issues with drugs lead to a series of petty offenses, including theft of property under $500 and distribution of cocaine. These incidents culminated in 2008, when Harris was arrested in Louisiana for selling a police officer .69 grams of cannabis.
Initially, Harris was convicted and subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison. However, in 2012 prosecutors argued that Harris should be resentenced under the Habitual Offenders Law. Judge Durwood Conque of Louisiana agreed and sentenced Harris to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His court-appointed Public Defender made no attempt to appeal this ruling.
“Nothing that he did deserved life without the possibility of parole,” Harris’s older brother Antoine Harris told The Appeal during a phone interview.
While incarcerated, Harris attempted to challenge the excessiveness of the decision, and argued that he had not received adequate legal representation. In 2013, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal ruled against Harris, but Judge Sylvia Cooks disagreed.
“I believe it is unconscionable to impose a life-sentence-without-benefit upon this Defendant who served his country on the field of battle and returned home to find his country offered him no help for his drug addiction problem. It is an incomprehensible, needless, tragic waste of a human life for the sake of slavish adherence to the technicalities of law.” Judge Cooks wrote.
Harris’ new attorney, Cormac Boyle, once again presented the argument that Harris received ineffective legal assistance during his post-conviction sentencing. This time, the Supreme Court of Louisiana agreed that his sentence was too harsh.
Justice Wiemer wrote that, in his opinion, Harris “developed a substance abuse problem after returning from his honorable military service in Desert Storm, and his prior offenses were nonviolent and related to his untreated dependency on drugs.”
Wiemer also noted that the original trial judge said of Harris that he was “not a drug kingpin” and didn’t fit what they thought of “as a drug dealer, so far as I can tell.”
A new sentence of nine years time served was handed down to Harris, though the exact date of his actual release has yet to be determined—Boyle hopes to have him freed soon.
Cormac Boyle told CNN that Harris is looking forward to being a free man, and that he plans on relocating to Louisville after his release to be closer to his family in Kentucky. He’s excited to meet his nephews. It’s been nearly a decade since Derek and his brother Antoine have seen one another in person.
Marijuana use in the States has been steadily on the rise for over a decade. With the COVID-19 pandemic leaving large swaths of Americans anxiety-ridden and homebound, many dispensaries have seen massive upticks in sales. It makes sense that people are turning to cannabis to help cope with these difficult times, but according to a new study, this is hardly a novel phenomenon.
To help policymakers be more informed, a recent study out of Harvard set out to analyze the changes in cannabis use nationwide. Researchers examined data from before and after the majority of states adopted legislation legalizing at least some form of cannabis.
The study, authored by William Mitchell, Roma Bhatia, and Nazlee Zebardast, used data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2005 to 2018.
The survey measured three subcategories of marijuana use:
- Lifetime use
- First-time use before the age of eighteen
- Use in the last year
The NHANES is a biennial survey that is weighted to represent the entire US population. Participants range in age from 18 to 69. A total of 3,512 adults were surveyed in the seven cycles examined in this study. Those who partake in the survey are given a physical examination as well as an interview that includes a drug-use questionnaire.
Researchers discovered some interesting things about America’s marijuana habits.
First of all, the data showed that the amount of people who have used cannabis sometime in their life has hardly changed in the last 14 years. In 2005, 61.5 percent of participants reported having at least one marijuana experience in their lifetime. In 2018, that figure was 60.9 percent. In the five cycles in between, the data never varied more than four percentage points.
Similarly, the seven cycles showed very little difference in the prevalence of cannabis use before the age of eighteen. The lowest figure reported was 59.6 percent in 2005, and the highest was 62.7 percent in 2009, making for a range of only 3.1 percent.
The big variance that the study found was in the prevalence of people who reported using marijuana in the last year. Of Americans surveyed by the NHANES, 19.1 percent described having used cannabis in the last year in 2005. Compare that number to 2018, where 29.1 percent of those surveyed reported consuming marijuana in the last year. The 10 percent range is by far the largest in the study, and the prevalence steadily increases throughout every iteration of the survey, unlike the other two measured two outcomes.
What Does it Mean?
Since state-level legislation to end marijuana prohibition has become more common, so has marijuana use. The findings are not exceptionally surprising—legalization makes cannabis more accessible through legal dispensaries and removes the barrier of potential criminal repercussions that may have otherwise dissuaded potential users. With more people consuming marijuana, there has never been a better time to invest in the cannabis industry.
Even though more people are accessing cannabis in legal markets, the use among minors has not increased the way proponents of prohibition argued it would.
Marijuana may be legal in Vermont, but there are no dispensaries slinging pre-rolls and dab pens because a retail framework has not yet been established.
The Legal Status of Marijuana in Vermont
In January of 2018, Vermont made cannabis history by becoming the first state in the union to legalize marijuana through an act of lawmakers, instead of through a ballot initiative. At that point, they were the ninth state to end prohibition. The bill allowed for residents of the Green Mountain State above the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use, and to cultivate no more than two cannabis plants.
The bill, however, did not make permissible the sale of marijuana. So while Vermonters won’t find themselves in trouble with the law for simply having cannabis in their possession, the process of actually acquiring it has not changed all that much since becoming legal.
The History of S. 54
Almost exactly one year after legalizing marijuana, the Vermont State Senate produced another bill—one that would allow Vermont to create a taxable cannabis market akin to what we see in states like Washington and Colorado. That piece of legislation, titled S. 54, was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate with a veto-proof majority of 23 to 5. However, that was just the beginning.
Fast forward another year—S. 54 made its way to the House, where it was subject to amendments. Most of which were related to tax structure, and included opening an education fund where tax revenue from cannabis sales would be directly deposited. This move was seen as an appeal to Republican Governor Phil Scott, who despite originally opposing legalizing marijuana sales, implied he might come around on the issue if the tax revenue could be used to fund his after school proposal.
The bill officially cleared the house in February of this year.
Where is S. 54 Now?
Currently, two versions of S. 54 exist—the original Senate bill, and the House’s iteration with the added amendments. Vermont legislators appointed members to a bicameral conference committee to merge the two versions into one back in March, but much to the chagrin of marijuana advocates, the committee has not yet been authorized to meet. In May, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) told Marijuana Moment that S. 54 would have to take a back seat to the pandemic. “Our attention, I believe rightly, has been entirely on the COVID crisis and making sure that we get Vermonters through this very intense desperate period,” said Johnson.
However, on Wednesday, August 5 Johnson’s chief of staff told Marijuana Moment in an email that “S.54 is currently in a committee of conference and we expect that committee to meet during the August/September legislative session. That’s consistent with what the leader said during a June telephone town hall, where she said they were ‘aiming to get it passed in August.’”
The Future of S. 54
While S. 54 is only a few weeks away from reaching the seemingly supportive bicameral committee that will be responsible for deciding it’s fate, there’s still one more hurdle to clear—and it’s a big one.
After the committee reconciles the bill’s two versions into one, and both chambers approve it, that final piece of legislation will land on Governor Phil Scott’s desk. Once there, Scott will have the option to either sign it into law, or veto it. Scott has historically been opposed to legalization, but has also indicated that he may be open to S. 54 depending on where the tax revenue was spent. Since taking office, Governor Scott has vetoed both a family leave plan, and a minimum wage increase.