Tackling the opioid epidemic was one of the major planks of my 2016 campaign. I proposed redirecting marijuana enforcement funds to opioid abuse prevention, treatment and enforcement. During the 53rd Legislative Session, we tackled the opioid epidemic, but we left any meaningful marijuana reforms on the table.
Prior to passage of the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act in early 2018, more Arizonans died from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin and cocaine overdoses combined. In 2013, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) reported 1000 deaths from prescription drug overdose, 100 deaths from heroin overdose, and 0 deaths from marijuana. So, why is law enforcement wasting time and money busting and jailing people for marijuana?
I believe that law enforcement and prevention efforts should focus on the drugs that actually kill and addict people– like prescription opiates, meth, heroin, cocaine, and designer drugs.
Since 2010, drug overdose deaths–from legal and illegal drugs– have surpassed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in Arizona. Our state had one of the worst drug overdose and prescription drug abuse records in the US, which is why Governor Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in 2017. This declaration resulted in a state epidemiological study and public health recommendations to tackle the opioid epidemic in our state.
Unlike much of what we do in the Arizona Legislature, the opioid bill was a truly bipartisan effort. I was proud to be on the Democratic team that suggested public health strategies and negotiated the contents of the opioid bill with the governor and the Republicans. (You can read more about it here.)
Marijuana & the War on Drugs
In 2018, we moved in the right direction on opioids, but the state has nearly stood still on marijuana– a plant that 1000s of Arizonans would like to legalize. The Legislature did pass cannabis testing, which will ensure patient safety, and lowered the medical marijuana card cost. Arizona had the most expensive medical marijuana card in the country, thus pushing some people to the streets for pot. I have also backed testing and proposed lowering the card costs multiple years and was glad those measures passed.
It’s a travesty that sentencing reform, which is a bipartisan issue, was stalled both years in the 54th Legislature, by entrenched Republican leadership in the House and Senate, particularly the Judiciary Committee chairs. Multiple people, including me, have proposed different types of decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. Arizona has the worst marijuana laws in the country; any possession — even an amount as small as a dime — is a felony. None of those efforts got anywhere in the Legislature.
I believe that Arizona should legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana. Arresting and jailing people for using marijuana does nothing more than feed the private prison industry, add to our mass incarceration problem, waste taxpayer money on prisons, and ruin people’s lives.
I support the Smart and Safe Initiative (Prop 207) on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot. It ends felony possession, something the Legislature has failed to do, although bills are proposed annually. Felony possession fuels mass incarceration in Arizona. Also, it has been shown that incarceration for marijuana is often discriminatory. Blacks and whites illegally use marijuana at about the same rate, yet black people are far more likely to be jailed for the same crime.
Marijuana legalization is a win-win-win situation because it would not only raise money in sales taxes and create an economic boon for our state, but it also would save law enforcement and incarceration funds and reduce drug-related border crime. This savings could be applied to our real drug problem– opiates.
Prop 207 isn’t perfect, but continued felony possession and mass incarceration for a plant that never killed anyone is just not right.
Furthermore, in October 2014, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that states with medical cannabis had a 25% lower overdose mortality rate from opioid prescription drug overdose when compared with states where marijuana is illegal. So– legalization of marijuana could be part of our strategy to combat prescription painkiller overdose deaths.
It’s time to stop jailing citizens for using a plant that never killed anyone. We should focus prevention, treatment and enforcement efforts on the drugs that are addicting and killing our citizens. I support legalization of marijuana and expansion of the medical marijuana program.
Medical marijuana is big business in Arizona. I took the above photo of maturing marijuana plants and the thumbnail on the Issue page when I toured a grow op in Amado, Arizona. Hundreds of people are employed in grow ops and dispensaries. With legalization of adult use, more people will be employed in the industry, the state will take in hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax for community colleges, healthcare, infrastructure, and police and fire. (The police and fire portion is allocated to municipalities based upon their pension fund membership. That would be a logical use for it, but the cities can spend it on anything related to police and fire — even body cameras, more community policing or more social workers. )
‘View from the Left Side’ Blog & YouTube Videos
Since 2018, I have been making daily video updates from my office at the Capital and regular videos during the interim, when I am in Tucson. As a result, I have an extensive collection of videos on Facebook and YouTube. Both collections are organized into playlists to facilitate learning more about specific topics like education, taxes, or public health.
For more information, here are more blog posts and YouTube links.