MMJ: Crickets for Cannabis

When the state enters crisis mode, priorities become clear


Despite the state's stay-at-home order, backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona initiative say they are on target to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

With just under two months left until the July 2 deadline, the campaign has collected more than 100,000 signatures over the minimum requirement of about 238,000 signatures for the proposed ballot proposition, which asks Arizona voters to approve recreational cannabis use for adults in the state.

However, other initiative campaigns might not be in as comfortable position.

As of the Weekly's print deadline, plaintiffs had been waiting more than a month to hear from the Arizona Supreme Court after they were granted an "expedited" hearing to determine whether they could use the state's E-Qual system to collect signatures.

Smart and Safe Arizona petitioned the Supreme Court along with Save Our Schools Arizona, Invest in Education and Arizonans for Second Chances on April 2 to direct Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbes to allow initiatives to use the E-Qual system.

Though Gov. Doug Ducey has only extended his stay-at-home order through May 15, campaign organizers have lost nearly two months of signature gathering. And even once the stay-at-home order lifts and shops and cafés start bustling again, chances are many people will still choose to remain home, leaving little chance to make up for lost time.

Members of the Arizona Legislature use the E-Qual system to collect signatures every election cycle. But it appears the same privilege isn't granted to citizen initiatives.

Given the Republican majority's hostility towards ballot props—Ducey has signed several recent bills that place roadblocks in the path of initiative campaigns—it's unsurprising to see the state argue against allowing such campaigns to use the E-Qual system. It's a pretty passive offense.

I can't imagine it's the easiest task in the world to manage a state under an invisible threat and caught between competing models and studies, but that's likely the excuse state officials will rely on should they come under the scrutiny they deserve for inhibiting the rights of Arizonans.

The campaigns aren't the only ones met with silence from state leadership. Doctors who evaluate and prescribe cannabis have been left in the dark regarding whether they can use telemedicine to consult patients.

Right now, every other doctor in the state can use telemedicine to check on and prescribe medicine to their patients. But should one of those patients have to see their cannabis doctor, then they must show up in person or find someone willing to do a house call.

Either way, some cannabis patients are being put at risk for the simple reason that some people don't like cannabis. The state health department refuses to change the restrictions without Ducey's approval, and that's as likely to happen as catching him smoking a joint.

Patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis or AIDS—whose immune systems are already under threat and who are struggling with heartbreaking diagnoses—receive protections for every other doctors they see, but if they choose to use cannabis to medicate, they're subject to increased risk.

The fact that there's been so much confusion around the subject indicates its clearly not that big of an issue for the governor's office to simply allow cannabis patients the same precautions as anyone else.

The sad thing is this isn't anything new for the cannabis industry. We're coming up on the 10-year anniversary of Arizonans voting for medical cannabis, and patients, doctors and dispensaries alike still must roll with the punches and put up a fight when necessary.

Even with another vote on adult-use legalization on the horizon, the end of the fight for cannabis equality is nowhere in sight.

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