Nearly a year after being approved by voters, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act has proven popular with patients, yet much of the Act remains on rocky legal ground.
Six active lawsuits confirm early predictions that such a significant social policy change would engender substantial court action. What wasn’t known was how patients, caregivers and the business community serving these individuals would respond when the State once again attempted to scuttle the will of the voters.
In January of this year Attorney General Tom Horne offered anti-Prop 203 leader Carolyn Short a gift: he could disembowel significant portions of the Act by pitting Arizona’s new law against the Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and last but not least, the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, Nixon’s reaction to the social unrest being fomented by the era’s youth – and still the underpinning of Federal law. Once Governor Jan Brewer finally browbeat Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble into being the State’s Plaintiff, Horne petitioned the federal court for a “Declaratory Judgement” stating that the Act did or did not conflict with federal statutue – which of course it does, as it has in every state with a medical marijuana law.
Horne had to know his abuse of the judicial system wouldn’t yield a favorable ruling, but he also knew this: the suit would create confusion and doubt about the Act, weakening public support for a ballot initiative that won by only the slimmest of margins. This would buy opponents time to create a “sky is falling” narrative, dutifully reported by an obedient press: that “medical” marijuana is a sham, a cover for what in actuality is a recreational users program; that dispensaries would attract crime and blight to neighborhoods; that cartels would move in under the guise of being legal dispensaries; and, that medicating patients would cause trouble in the workplace, etc, etc ad nauseum.
This storyline failed during the 2010 election cycle, but could now have the effect sought by opponents. Why? Because due to the Act’s passage and the government’s failure to fully stop its implementation, there are patients legally using marijuana for medicinal purposes, patients and caregivers cultivating crops, and compassion clubs and collectives opening up across the State to provide patients with access to the medicine they voted for – all activities in which just a few wrong steps, misjudgements, foolish or criminal acts might be enough to turn the tide of public opinion towards the opponent’s desired goal – repeal of the Act.
Unsurprisingly, some regretable incidents have occurred. The press, rarely missing an opportunity to cast MMJ in a bad light, reports each incident with just enough objectivity to mask its underlying Reefer Madness bias, confirming the worst fears of opponents while stirring doubt among casual supporters of Prop 203 last November.
So,we have a hostile government (with the Legisature reconvening in January), media outlets continually sensationalizing the subject, and well-connected private citizens whose overriding life goal is re-criminalizing personal behaviors we’ve just determined should be legal.
What is IN our favor is significant, if utilized with direction and purpose. Raw assets include 13,000+ patients and caregivers, whose numbers grow daily; responsible business owners whose fledgling enterprises are starting to bear fruit; a nationwide network of supporting advocates who have been down this same rough road; and, the knowledge that a majority of Arizonans from across the political spectrum support the right of patients to have this medicine if they so choose.
Next: An actionable plan for advocates.
[Note] Although many know me as an insurance agent providing coverage for compassion clubs and grows, in a former life I worked ten years for an elected official. My political experience also includes advising local and state candidates and non-profit lobbying. From these experiences I learned that even underdogs can win – but only if they are in the game.
Doug Banfelder is a commercial insurance specialist. Reach him at 480-315-9051, [email protected], or at www.PremierDispensaryInsurance.com
Thank you again Doug for a well written and insightful article. As a patient education and advocacy group in Tucson,SWAPA we are very aware of the confustion and fear that our patients and advocates are experiencing. It is our goal for patient equality through education and advocacy. Yes the AMMA passed by a slim margin last time, but it passed by 65% or more the other two times it wass voted on. We must get people registered to vote and ready for 2012, and show the true power of the people.