Last Update: April 17, 2014
Arizona Legislature missed opportunities in 2014
Arizona’s legislature missed several important opportunities to greatly improve state marijuana laws and contribute to scientific research that could have helped veterans and others suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”).
Two bills, one of which would have established a system to tax and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and over, and another, which would have removed criminal penalties for the possession of a small amount of marijuana, did not advance this year. HB 2558, sponsored by Rep. Ruben Gallego, would have legalized marijuana by establishing a tax and regulate approach for adults 21 and over. Please take a moment to reach out to your legislators and ask for their support to establish a system that would regulate marijuana similar to alcohol. Another positive bill, HB 2474, sponsored by Rep. Mark Cardenas, would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and imposed a non-criminal fine of up to $100 and made other changes to lower penalties for larger amounts.
HB 2333, sponsored by Rep. Ethan Orr, would have used medical marijuana patient registration fees to fund important research on marijuana’s positive effect on those suffering from PTSD – the first such study of its kind in the U.S. Unfortunately, the bill could also have authorized using those same funds to pay for potentially harmful anti-marijuana educational programs. While the bill received a great deal of support in the House of Representatives, it was blocked and ultimately killed by Sen. Kimberly Yee, chairperson for the Senate Education Committee, who refused to advance the bill.
Learn about Arizona's marijuana laws
Arizona has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country. Unlike most states in the U.S., the criminal penalty for possession of just one ounce of marijuana can be a felony that carries a potential penalty of 18 months in jail and a $150,000 fine. A 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that over 55% of drug arrests in Arizona are for marijuana possession, and that blacks are 2.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Please ask your legislators to support imposing a civil fine, not criminal penalties and possible imprisonment, for possession of marijuana.
Polls gauging support for replacing marijuana prohibition with regulations in Arizona tend to show majority support. In a May 2013 poll, 56% of Arizonans supported legalization. A January poll showed 51% opposed, while a poll in February showed the reverse, with 51% in favor of legalization.
Medical marijuana in Arizona
In 2010, Arizona voters approved Prop. 203, an MPP-drafted and funded initiative to allow the medical use of marijuana. To learn about the program, visit the Department of Health Services’ medical marijuana web page. The Arizona Department of Health Services is considering changes to agency rules which for the most part represent improvements to the program, including by allowing more patients to qualify for a reduced fee. Those changes, once complete, will go into effect in late 2014. The department is expected to accept additional applications which could allow up to 126 dispensaries, beginning on May 18, 2015 and ending on June 1, 2015.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Arizona, be sure to subscribe to MPP's free legislative alert service, if you haven't done so already.