Friday, June 13, 2014

Safer AZ Suspends 2014 Petition, Retools for 2016 Drive

For Immediate Release—
Safer AZ Suspends 2014 Petition, Retools for 2016 Drive
Contact: Mikel Weisser, Executive Director, Safer Arizona
On the one year anniversary of launching their historic citizens’ initiative to legalize marijuana statewide, Safer AZ, the cannabis reform Political Action Committee, announced the group is suspending petition gathering for the 2014 cycle to reorganize for a 2016 campaign.

At a reorganizational meeting for the group’s upcoming 2016 petitioning campaign, the initiative’s author, Dennis Bohlke, formally announced what had long been rumored-- that the group would not reach the minimum 250,000 signatures required to qualify for the ballot. “We have enjoyed so much good will and support around the state, we have to honor that and not leave folks out in the field till the last minute, when Safer AZ leadership is already planning for 2016.” The group also announced Weisser will serve as interim executive director, as Safer AZ retools to develop a full-scale operation for 2016, complete with a paid staff and fundraising arm of the organization.
Originally founded by David Wisniewski, a tech savvy active duty soldier stationed in South Korea, Safer Wisniewski soon connected with Phoenix-based computer designer Bohlke.  The two developed the organization through email and online chat. In March, Bohlke attended a statewide meeting of AZ NORML in Sierra Vista and enlisted Tucson mmj patient and defendants’ rights activist, Robert Clark and Kingman-area Democratic organizer/congressional candidate, Mikel Weisser, and the PAC was born.
 “So far Safer AZ has operated as a totally volunteer organization,” Weisser explained. “We all worked on the parts we liked and no one worked enough on central organization. We all had fulltime commitments already. Dennis runs a computer company, I’m running for Congress. Nobody had the time to work on it fulltime. We rarely worked on fundraising and though we enjoyed a LOT of good will, the moneys we received were inconsistent. You can only do so much w zero budget.”
Though the group only raised a few thousand dollars, much of that through leadership donations, in the course of a year, Safer AZ accomplished much. “When we started, politically the cannabis community was just a whipping boy for the ‘Law & Order” crowd,” Weisser laughed. “Now they know we have faces, opinions and voices. Now they know we vote.”
Devised to address cannabis reform through a variety of political approaches, Safer AZ’s legalization drive gained national attention last summer when the group first announced filing the initiative. In addition to the statewide petition gathering project directed by Bohlke, David Wisniewski built an online community through the PAC website and Facebook page that has grown to have thousands or followers nationwide. Robert Clark continued his work w the Human Solution (a national defendants’ rights group) and helped develop an activist Tucson community on cannabis issues; while Weisser focused on the state capitol and served as the group’s legislative liaison, using traditional advocacy approaches w social media to create political pressure for cannabis reform.
Safer AZ’s decriminalization bill HB2474 (written by Bohlke) had 14 Democratic sponsors and got as far as the House judiciary committee before being stopped by the GOP. The group also organized resistance to anti-cannabis bills by state senators Kelli Ward and Kimberly Yee. In addition, with the help of organizations like AZ NORML and the Phoenix Cannabis Coalition, Safer AZ created several musical events for the cannabis community often featuring cannabis friendly artists such Phoenix’s Hot Rock Supastar and the Hippy Thug Family or Tucson’s Ezra Letra.
“I’m glad we did all the different stuff we did. It’s been a great learning experience. We have been building for a stronger presence and trying to pull together the different elements of AZ cannabis reform, before we launch our 2016 package. There are numerous activist groups and stakeholder communities in AZ’s cannabis community and they don’t always play together as well as they should.” Weisser laughs.
Throughout the past year, the upstart Safer PAC often had to jostle for position among the state cannabis reform leaders. “2016 is going to require the various cannabis activists to be on the same page. I aim to be sure ALL interested parties have a chance to write some of it,” Weisser assures. Safer AZ will be drafting the initiative over the course of the summer and hopes to bring together the various cannabis activist groups in the state to contribute their part in the drafting process. “Call it a cannabis convention. We want everyone to know their concerns are looked out for as we draft the initiative; but, more importantly, with ownership comes responsibility. If everyone has a part in the creation, we all know what part we’ll have to play to make it happen.”
In addition Safer AZ is going to expand their cannabis surveys of elected officials to include candidates for the upcoming 2014 elections. “AZ doesn’t have a drug problem, we have a political problem and this is how you solve it. We need to educate the public about who they are voting for and the candidates need to be educated that this community is tired of being ignored,” Weisser smiled. “We vote, we volunteer, and we’re watching.”  
For more information contact Safer AZ:
Mikel Weisser

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