Thursday, January 16, 2014

State House to Consider Safer AZ’s Cannabis Reform Bill

For Immediate Release
Date: 1/16/14—

State House to Consider Safer AZ’s Cannabis Reform Bill

Phoenix, AZ – Thursday, January 16th, Representative Mark Cardenas (D-LD19) will introduce a bill to reduce penalties for cannabis possession in AZ on the floor of the AZ State Legislature. The bill, called the Harm Reduction Measure, was created and promoted by the cannabis reform group, Safer AZ. If enacted the new law is designed to undo changes made to state marijuana statutes in 1988, by later-impeached governor, Evan Mecham. Currently all arrests in AZ for cannabis possession are considered felonies. On average Arizona law enforcement arrest over 18,000 people per year for cannabis related charges. While the state and local prosecuting attorneys often accept plea bargains in cannabis cases, the felony arrest will stay on a person’s record, affecting employment and educational opportunities, military eligibility, parenting & gun-ownership rights.

In addition to clarifying statutes regarding DUI & cannabis, the Harm Reduction Measure will adjust the penalties for marijuana possession as listed in AZ statute: ARS 13-3405. Possession of less than one ounce will become a “petty offense” misdemeanor, w a maximum possible fine of $100. One to four ounces is a separate, more serious category, as is four ounces up to two pounds. Cases over two pounds will still carry a felony sentence. “A cancer patient growing one plant for his nausea could have a bush that easily weighs up to two pounds. Especially when you include the stalk and roots of the plant,” explains Safer AZ’s legislative liaison, Mikel Weisser (also a candidate for US House of Representatives in AZ-04). “That kind of injustice happens daily. I am just glad AZ is finally putting a stop to this madness.”

The initiative was created by Safer AZ, founder and treasurer, Dennis Bohlke. Originally designed as a 2010 ballot measure, Bohlke’s bill has been a less visible component of Safer AZ’s overall reform strategy, which includes a citizens’ initiative for complete legalization and their promotion of the full-scale cannabis industry regulatory package being constructed by Ruben Gallego (D-LD27). At the same time Bohlke and Safer AZ president, Robert Clark began promoting the ballot initiative, Weisser began work at the capitol interviewing legislators on marijuana reform in general and seeking a sponsor to introduce the Harm Reduction Measure.

Based in Kingman, advocating for the bill meant weekly 400 mile roundtrips to meet w legislators. Weisser laughs, “We talked to 40 legislators by now and went through about 20 before finding Rep. Cardenas. Plenty of folks from both parties said they liked the idea; but wouldn’t commit. Cardenas took the ball and hasn’t stopped running. He has already been rallying supporters and we expect folks to sign on from both sides of the aisle. The bill still faces stiff challenges, so it will take a shrewd negotiator and fighter. But now that we’ve held sit-downs w nearly half of the legislature, we can feel the momentum moving our way.”

In celebration of the bill introduction this week, Safer AZ staged a colorful demonstration at the opening day of the legislative session on Jan. 13, w 100s in attendance to champion their new bill. “People came from all over the state to help promote this, “Bohlke noted, “Folks are hungry for justice and this bill gives us something to believe in.”
 For Weisser it is the culmination of over a year’s work. “When I held my first meeting, it was with a state senator, a medical doctor, no less, who was ready to make laws to punish cannabis patients and didn’t even know about the endocannabinoid receptor system,” Weisser laughs. Despite the long-time prohibition and ban on research, in the 1990s scientists discovered that the human and other animal cells actually communicate w each other using the same chemical compounds found in marijuana. These chemicals called cannabinoids have been linked to pain reduction, fighting nausea and tremors, and even reducing tumors as well as helping in dozens of other conditions. “The science is now irrefutable: cannabis is medicine. This bill will stop some of the injustices users face.” Weisser asserts. “Arizonans should back this bill, the kids they save may be their own.”

Safer AZ is encouraging all those interested in cannabis reform to contact their legislators as soon as possible to express support for the bill. “We even have created a chart of all 90 members of the legislature, so people can see where their elected officials stand on this issue and others,” says Bohlke. “This bill is good for AZ and if somebody is going to try to block it or work against keeping Arizonans out of jail, I want the voters to know about it, so they can act accordingly.”

Rep. Mark Cardenas is expected to introduce the bill Thursday January 16, 2014 during the  House floor motions. “Like labor, once the baby is born, a whole new set of challenges begins, but at this point I am just proud to be the midwife.”

The Arizona State Capitol is at 17th and Jefferson in downtown Phoenix. The legislative session begins at 9AM. For more information on Safer AZ, visit their website for more on the Mikel Weisser for US Congress campaign visit the website

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