Trouble in Pot Paradise

The big issue now in the new marijuana legalization initiative draft language is cultivation

Language allowing people to grow recreational marijuana at their homes was completely scratched from a new draft of the citizens' initiative we might see on the 2016 ballot, making the months-long collaboration between Safer Arizona and the Marijuana Policy Project a bit rusty in recent days.

Up until this draft, dated Feb. 25, cultivation rights were considered. Ten days prior, the initiative said a person could grow up to six plants and a household a total of 12. Some dispensaries were concerned this might affect their business, and, according to members of Safer Arizona and other like-minded pot advocates, this might have been a reason for removing that section.

"What happened is, the people who supposedly are putting up the biggest amount of the funding for this initiative, which are the dispensaries, have decided they want complete control of the industry," says Robert Clark, co-chairman of Safer Arizona. "We have tried to work with them to keep the cannabis community all working as one, we have communicated them the issues that are important and the main issue is called cultivation."

Clark said he was told by a Marijuana Policy Project representative that they "are bound by the highest bidder and that right now is the Arizona Dispensary Association and law enforcement 'types' as those critical financial backers who threaten to pull funding if grow rights are included in the initiative."

To Clark, this draft of the initiative resembles more of a business model with strict taxation and regulation. The licensing is limited. The fees, up in the tens of thousands, will keep a lot of people who planned to grow at bay.

Similarly to Prop 203, the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, this draft would establish dispensaries as the sole option to purchase pot.

"The poorest among us have been disenfranchised, we cannot afford our medicine and we can't grow it," Clark says. "This initiative legalizes the growing, production and sale for just a very few rich people."

As it's been the case with medical pot where patients who can't afford, for instance, $350 an ounce, continue to flood the black market, Clark argues this current draft wouldn't address that issue with recreational pot either. "We are going to buy it the same way we have been since prohibition started, from the black market," he says.

But all of this is still a work in progress. The draft being discussed isn't what the Marijuana Policy Project will file with election officials in coming months.

However, the group says the final initiative must reflect what the citizens of a particular state want. If most voters do not agree with cultivation rights yet, then the initiative will not include them so that the measure actually has a shot at passing.

"The question is not whether our organization supports home cultivation ... we believe people should be allowed to grow marijuana in their homes," says Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "If we decide that including that will result in marijuana prohibition remaining the law of the land for several more years, we might choose to leave it out and then pursue that once public opinion has shifted."

All Clark hears is, "bullshit."

He says this is the same excuse that was used when the medical pot initiative was drafted. Supporters were told that the only way the measure could get out of the election cycle alive was to prohibit users from growing the plant if they lived within 25 miles of a dispensary.

This rule has helped dispensaries sell a lot of pot, since most people live close to one. From 2013 to last year, dispensary sales nearly tripled, according to the state's Department of Health Services.

"(The Marijuana Policy Project) says it is for the people, but then they hire individuals out of the dispensary industry to craft the language and support other dispensaries, so that they can continue to control the cannabis industry like they have with the medical program," Clark says.

Tvert says this is a valid conversation to have. But, ultimately, the primary goal right now is to legalize pot once and for all so that responsible adults can stop getting arrested and prosecuted for marijuana possession. Other amenities can be added later.

"No measure has been filed for signatures yet, it is premature to start talking about the subject, there is certainly a reason to talk about it, we know where some folks stand, we stand there too, we think it should be included," he says. "But the laws reflect what the voters want in Arizona."

Meanwhile, Safer Arizona is searching for plans B, C and D in case the final initiative, which Tvert says MPP still doesn't have a timeframe of completion, does not reflect their and other stakeholders' needs.

On their website, Safer is calling on Arizona voters to reach out to dispensary owners who support home cultivation (last week Desert Bloom's owner, Aari Ruben voiced her support) to ensure some sort of growing rights make it in.

The talks with MPP will continue and both hope to find a middle ground.