Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Safer AZ Re-files, Re-forms for 2016 Drive

For Immediate Release—

Contact: Mikel Weisser, Political Director, Safer Arizona
Safer AZ, the cannabis reform Political Action Committee behind last year’s marijuana legalization initiative, has refiled their organizational paperwork with the Arizona Secretary of State’s  office to join the campaigns to legalize cannabis and hemp in 2016.  In their original incarnation, past-president Robert Clark will continue as co-chair with founder, Dave Wisniewski, for the new cycle. Mikel Weisser will serve as treasurer and continue as political director. In their recently released 2016 cycle business plan, Safer AZ announced intentions to develop a full-scale operation for 2016, complete with a paid staff and a fundraising arm of the organization. As their 2014 initiative’s author, PHX-based computer programmer, Dennis Bohlke explains, “AZ doesn’t have a drug problem, we have a political problem and this is how you solve it. We have got to stop the madness of destroying people’s lives for a plant. Everyone here is an activist. There’s no way we’re stopping now.”

Billing themselves a “full-service” cannabis political action committee, Safer AZ 2016 (new name for the new cycle) expects to be continuing with their same programs, but on a greatly expanded scale. Since filing their new paperwork on Dec. 5th, the group has already held interviews with four state legislators to discuss their legislative agenda for the upcoming 2015 session, re-launched their product line of their iconic green “MARIJUANA IS SAFER THAN ALCOHOL” tee-shirts and begun the networking and fundraising to build for the legalization 2016 push.

The controversial organization has been at the forefront of Arizona pot politics since Safer AZ made national news in June of 2013 by writing a cannabis legalization ballot measure for the 2014 election cycle, two years ahead of the nationally recognized Marijuana Policy Project’s proposed 2016 campaign. Often stuck negotiating between warring camps (pro-cannabis industry v pro-consumer, anarchist activists v political operatives, MPP supporters v AZ-only activists, just to name a few) Safer AZ’s greatest achievement may be that after two years, groups that never would have spoken to each other have formed a coalition to set an overall strategy.  

In November, six different activist organizations (Safer AZ, PHX NORML, PCC (PHX Cannabis Coalition, AZ 4NORML (Tucson based), SSDP (Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, both the ASU & the U of A chapters), RAMMP (Registry of Arizona Medical Marijuana Patients) & the Human Solution) formed the AZ’s Cannabis Consumer Coalition. Represented by nationally renown cannabis criminal defense lawyer Tom Dean, the group is participating in the lawyers-only drafting process that will create the 2016 ballot measure.

Originally founded by David Wisniewski, a tech savvy active duty soldier then-stationed in South Korea, and three other far-flung Arizonans (Tucson’s Clark, PHX based Bohkle and Weisser in Kingman), Safer AZ operated as a totally volunteer organization. Strong on ideas, though weak on resources, the upstart political action committee’s four principles soon began an ambitious agenda with supporters around the state signing up to join the movement.

Wisniewski built an online community through the PAC website and Facebook page that soon grew to have thousands or followers nationwide.  Bohlke and Clark organized dozens of activists and taught them to collect signatures. Weisser joined PHX-based cannabis activists, holding demonstrations, creating 420 focused musical fun-raisers, giving rallying speeches and “movement status reports” for all the trendy 420 groups, in addition to conducting a series of legislative interviews and demonstrations at the state capitol. Safer AZ leadership also served as the go-to voice of AZ cannabis reform, appearing in numerous clips on PHX and Tucson local news channels and talk radio stations, as a recurring subject for the PHX New Times, and even in articles by the New York Times and Huffington Post.  

One Safer AZ idea, “The Harm Reduction Measure,” was picked up by Democratic West Valley legislator, Mark Cardenas (LD-19) and introduced as HB2474. If passed, the bill would have amended state statutes on marijuana arrests. Currently ARS 13-3405 requires that all marijuana related arrests begin as felony arrests. Cardenas promises to revisit the idea in the upcoming legislative session. “I’m getting my bills together and we already have legislative counsel on it. It was a good idea, it’s still a good idea,” Cardenas says.

Early attention and accolades did not sustain the volunteer based group’s base of activists, however; and even the central four only had so much time in a day. As Weisser explains, “We all worked on the parts we liked and no one worked enough on central organization. We all had full-time commitments already. Dave was in the Army. I mean gee, give the guy a break. Dennis runs a computer company, I was running for Congress. Robert has health issues. Nobody had the time to work on it full-time. We rarely worked on fundraising and you can only do so much w zero budget.” The group eventually pulled their initiative in June of 2014 vowing to continue building on their gains and re-launch at the turn of the election cycle. True to their word, Clark, Weisser and Wisniewski were at the counter with the AZ Secretary of State’s elections office with new paperwork on the first day of the new cycle.
 Listed by the IRS as a 527, Safer Arizona’s new AZSOS designation calls it “an organization supporting or opposing a ballot measure.” Though one of the loudest voices on cannabis and hemp reform in the state, the group will not be introducing their own initiative this round. MPP of AZ does not expect their measure to be completed until February and HOW of Arizona, a Gilbert-based group of first-timers led by Christian Carrasco has already filed their hemp-only initiative and though they have begun working with Safer AZ leadership on strategy.
 “While we are not actually filing the petitions for the ballot initiatives, these are issues we have been promoting,” explained PAC co-chair, Robert Clark. “We are working with the committees running these initiatives to help them with the organizing and getting out the message. AND, to make sure we’re getting language that we like. But there is a lot more to making marijuana legal than just writing a bill and that’s where we come in.”

For more information contact Safer AZ:
Mikel Weisser

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