There it was, on ABC15 News this morning: chatter that the state may consider legalizing marijuana for personal use. Or at least putting it out to the voters to decide.
We all know how much our state leaders hate the Medical Marijuana Act (MMA) voters approved in a 2010 referendum. So much so that Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) has introduced a resolution (HCR 2003; search for it here) to ask voters to reconsider it.
This would put an end to state-licensed clinics selling state-approved pot to state-certified patients, some of whom are so sick that the state has licensed their caregivers to get the stuff to them–in spite of existing law that says the state may not interfere with voter-passed referenda.
Anyway, the word is out that we might be able to vote on another referendum that would decide if Arizonans can keep small amounts of marijuana for our own personal use. It’s enough for the AZ Capitol Times, to even let nonsubscribers read an editorial by Carolyn Short, chair of Keep AZ Drug Free, to argue that this is all nonsense because this will never come to pass.
She’s right, although I can’t say I agree with much of her reasoning. I particularly disagree with her charge that voters were “misled” into believing that medical marijuana would only go to patients with disease like cancer. “In most medical marijuana states, over 90 percent of the pot goes to people who claim pain, not serious illness,” Short writes.
I don’t know if this is true–she doesn’t cite where she gets her statistics–but this doesn’t seem to be the case in Arizona, however, at least according to the state Department of Health Services. Pain is not a diagnosis that is acceptable to get a medical marijuana card, according to the DHS page that lists qualifying conditions under which a physician may prescribe medical marijuana treatment.
Short also makes the great leap that voters in other states have rejected personal-use referenda because they’ve seen how terrible medical marijuana is for their communities. But the whole point of the medical marijuana movement is to allow qualified patients only to access a drug that many objective studies show helps them control nausea and keep some food down. Taking a leap from this to allowing everyone access is well, quite a jump.
The fact is, this is a state with a strong libertarian edge that says people can make their own choices whether it’s what we ingest or how many weapons we can purchase in a single afternoon. This libertarian sensibility is tempered to an extent by how much these decisions are subjected to regulations, a factor I think Short overlooks. Medical marijuana is heavily regulated and given that state officials oppose it–including DHS director Will Humble–it’s also closely watched. Take a look at DHS’s medical marijuana web pages and I think you’ll agree.
Here’s a good example of this thinking: Arizona is one of just 10 states that allow the sale of unpasteurized (raw) dairy products, subject to health code regulations. Another 11 states allow sales of unpasteurized milk. Not surprisingly, a CDC study found that 70% of people sickened by diseases normally killed during milk pasteurization live in those 21 states.
Does this mean that sales of raw dairy products should be curtailed? No, and any move in that direction will activate the natural food folks and trust me, these are well-organized people. Consider that stricter enforcement of regulations might be a better option. Sort of like, you know, ensuring that felons and severely mentally ill people are added to that list of people who shouldn’t be buying guns.
There are other flaws in Short’s argument, including charges that teenage marijuana use is higher in states that have medical marijuana laws (again, no citation is provided to let us know who came to the conclusion, and how). But I do know that these states (California, Massachusetts) have some of the densest populations in the US and therefore, register higher on just about anything you measure.
Will Arizonans get to decide on legal use of marijuana? I doubt it. It’s really not on anyone’s radar, including the libertarians and natural foodies. I suspect that the medical marijuana activists are focusing on preserving the MMA over any move to expand pot sales to the masses.