A voter initiative to legalize recreational marijuana will be on the November ballot in Arizona. The state’s Supreme Court last week rejected a final legal challenge to the measure.
A lower court judge had thrown out the challenge, saying the group called Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy didn’t have a right to sue.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry’s ruling went on to reject all of the reasons opponents laid out for keeping the initiative off the ballot.
The opponents said initiative backers used illegal and unconstitutional “bait-and-switch tactics” and that the initiative violates Arizona’s statutes in three ways. They include a misleading 100-word summary that leaves out important provisions, an “incoherent” text and title that obscures the extent of its impact on other laws, and a failure to provide a legal funding mechanism.
The high court sidestepped the right-to-sue argument, with Chief Justice Scott Bales calling Gentry’s reliance on a 2015 rewrite of a law “murky at best, and rather than wade into those waters, we turn to the merits.”
Bales went on to affirm Gentry’s ruling rejecting the merits of the opponents’ lawsuit, saying the summary substantially complied with the law’s requirements for initiatives.
The ruling means that Proposition 205 is on November’s general election ballot.
Four other states will also have recreational marijuana initiatives on their ballots, including California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada.
Voters in Florida, Montana, North Dakota and Arkansas will vote on medical marijuana.
Under the measure, adults 21 and older could carry up to one ounce of marijuana and consume it privately. Adults could also cultivate up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed space and possess the marijuana produced by the plants. No more than a dozen plants would be allowed in a single residence.
The system would regulate pot in a way proponents say is similar to alcohol, with a 15 percent tax on all retail marijuana sales. Most of the new state revenue would go to Arizona public schools and education programs.
Barrett Marson, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said it was “a good day for voters who want to end marijuana prohibition in Arizona.”
“Voters will get the opportunity that they requested — more than 258,000 people signed a petition to put this before the voters,” Marson said. “The Supreme Court agreed voters should have the final say on whether adults should have the right to legally purchase marijuana.”
The Secretary of State confirmed that about 177,000 of those signatures were valid, more than the approximately 151,000 need to qualify for the ballot.
Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which includes two prominent county attorneys and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, said they will now turn to urging voters to reject the measure.
“Our goal now is to make sure that every Arizonan enters the voting booth in November with a full understanding of both the intended and the unintended impacts of the 20 pages of new laws in Prop 205,” Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said in a statement. “We hope all citizens will read the lengthy legalese before voting and will learn how devastating Proposition 205 would be to our state if passed.”
Opponents say backers have not told voters about changes to DUI laws, child custody issues, employment law and many other laws.
In another development, a Maricopa County judge ordered one change to the ballot description voters will see but rejected other revisions sought by the backers.
Judge James Blomo agreed with the measure’s backers that the description crafted by Secretary of State Michele Reagan wrongly said marijuana will be legal for people over 21, when it should be 21 and older, and ordered it changed.
Blomo rejected efforts to insert language showing that a 15 percent marijuana tax would mainly funds schools and enforcement efforts and another minor change. Blomo said omitting the descriptions aren’t misleading and Reagan has the discretion to leave them off.
Snoop Dogg has his own line of marijuana. So does Willie Nelson. Melissa Etheridge has a marijuana-infused wine.
As the fast-growing marijuana industry emerges from the black market and starts looking like a mainstream industry, there’s a scramble to brand and trademark pot products.
The celebrity endorsements are just the latest attempt to add cachet to a line of weed. Snoop Dogg calls his eight strains of weed “DANK FROM THE DOGGFATHER HIMSELF.” Nelson’s yet-to-be-released line says the pot is “born of the awed memories of musicians who visited Willie’s bus after a show.”
The pot industry’s makeshift branding efforts, from celebrity names on boxes of weed to the many weed-themed T-shirts and stickers common in towns with a legal marijuana market, show the industry taking halting steps toward the mainstream.
Problem is, those weed brands aren’t much more substantial than the labels they’re printed on. Patents and trademarks are largely regulated by the federal government, which considers marijuana an illegal drug and therefore ineligible for any sort of legal protection. The result is a Wild West environment of marijuana entrepreneurs trying to stake claims and establish cross-state markets using a patchwork of state laws.
The result is that consumers have no way of knowing that celebrity-branded pot is any different than what they could get in a plastic baggie from a corner drug dealer. And people in the business are relying on a patchwork of state-level laws to try to stake claims and establish cross-state markets.
“You can’t go into federal court to get federal benefits if you’re a drug dealer,” said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who tracks marijuana law.
That doesn’t mean that the pot business isn’t trying.
Hundreds of marijuana-related patents have likely been requested by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, according to those who work in the industry. Exact numbers aren’t available because pending patent information isn’t public.
So far federal authorities have either ignored or rejected marijuana patent and trademark requests, as in the 2010 case of a California weed-delivery service that applied to trademark its name “The Canny Bus.”
“They haven’t issued a single patent yet. But generally speaking there is broad agreement within the patent law community that they will,” said Eric Greenbaum, director of intellectual property for Ligand Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which is seeking a patent for a strain of marijuana to treat seizures that it has developed in Minnesota.
Companies like Ligand are betting that if marijuana becomes nationally legal, they’ll be first in line to claim legal ownership of whichever type of marijuana they’ve already developed.
Pot companies are also filing state-level trademarks, thereby avoiding the snag in a federal trademark application: the requirement that the mark is used in interstate commerce, which remains off-limits for pot companies. In Colorado, for example, there are nearly 700 trade names and 200 trademarks registered that include the word “marijuana” or a synonym, Kamin said.
Marijuana producers are also claiming everything they can that doesn’t involve actual weed. So a pot company could trademark its logo, or patent a process for packaging something, without mentioning that the “something” is marijuana.
The marijuana industry certainly has been on the receiving end of legal threats from other companies that do have trademark and patent protection. Cease-and-desist letters aren’t uncommon in the mailboxes of marijuana companies, whether it’s for making a candy that looks like a non-intoxicating brand, or for selling a type of pot that includes a trademarked word or phrase in its name.
The Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., for example, says it has sent dozens of cease-and-desist letters to those selling a popular strain of pot known as Girl Scout Cookies, or another called Thin Mints.
“The use of our trademarks in connection with drugs tarnishes the Girl Scouts name,” the organization says in the letter it says it has sent to pot sellers primarily in California, Colorado and Washington.
And last year, Hershey Co. sued two marijuana companies in Colorado and Washington for selling “Reefer’s” peanut butter cups and “Dabby Patty” candies, which resembled Hershey’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and York peppermint patties. Both pot companies agreed to stop selling the products and destroy any remaining inventory.
But the industry can’t use those same laws to protect its own brands.
“We’re in a new industry, where the benefits of federal protection aren’t open to us,” said John Lord, CEO of LivWell, a 10-store chain of Colorado marijuana shops that recently entered an agreement to sell Leafs By Snoop, the entertainer’s new line of marijuana.
Decades ago, Kamin said, pot smokers simply asked a black-market dealer for marijuana. These days, in those states that allow marijuana sales for either medical or recreational purposes, those smokers now may ask for a calming indica or energizing sativa strain of pot.
Which leads back to the Colorado pot shop selling Leafs By Snoop.
LivWell grows the Snoop pot alongside many other strains on its menu. But it charges up to $175 more an ounce for the Snoop brand, which is sold from behind a glittery in-store display, similar to what you’d see in a grocery store marketing a certain type of soda or soup.
“Brand differentiation is the normal progression of events,” said Lord, who wouldn’t share sales figures on the Leafs By Snoop pot but says its performance has been “outstanding.”
“Consumers will see more and more of this in the future.”
One marijuana business hosts an annual golf tournament in Denver to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. Another Colorado pot company donates to a gay-rights advocacy group and is a sponsor of an AIDS walk.
As marijuana legalization matures, businesses are becoming more ingrained in their communities by donating cash and time to charities — a sign that the stigma of selling a drug that remains illegal under federal law may be fading.
“It’s not all about making money and about profiting,” said Ian Seeb, co-owner of Denver Relief, a dispensary whose monetary and volunteering donations include Ekar Farm and Garden, which grows vegetables for food banks.
It’s unknown how much money marijuana businesses have donated to nonprofits nationally and in Colorado.
“It is a brand new public conversation,” said Tom Downey, a regulatory attorney who specializes in marijuana.
He is a director at the firm Ireland Stapleton, which hosted a meeting in July at the state Capitol regarding donations with about 150 people from charitable organizations, lawyers and pot companies.
The Department of Justice, which has been watching the growing legal pot industries, declined to comment. The IRS declined to comment, except to say that marijuana businesses can’t write off donations on tax filings.
Colorado residents, for example, gave $3.4 billion to charities in 2012, the most recent data available from the IRS, according to the Colorado Association of Funders, a group that represents foundations.
Colorado foundations themselves donated about $800 million to charities in 2013.
The state has nearly 30,000 nonprofits, some of them tiny organizations, all competing for funds, said Joanne Kelley, executive director of the Colorado Association of Funders.
Enter the highly profitable legal marijuana industry, which was worth $2.7 billion in 2014, according to industry investment and research firm The ArcView Group.
But the industry’s profitability, and the charities’ need for contributions, is only one reason nonprofits and pot businesses have developed relationships.
Many in the marijuana industry have been big believers of the drug’s medical value and that has carried over to philanthropy, while the charities themselves sometimes serve populations that use the drug for ailments.
Matt Huron, founder and CEO of Good Chemistry in Colorado, traces his company’s philanthropy to his time managing a marijuana cooperative that grew pot for people who used it medically in San Francisco.
His father and his partner, who were both HIV positive, used the drug medically. His father died in 2009.
Huron said when it came to giving, he wanted “to keep that spirit alive” when he started his business in Colorado. But he found that some nonprofits were unwilling to accept donations from his company.
While reluctance is fading, he said, a stigma remains.
“We’re still breaking federal law,” he added.
Huron’s company donates to One Colorado, a gay rights advocacy group, but he declined to say how much.
Dave Montez, executive director of One Colorado, said his organization’s standard for accepting donations comes down to whether the contributor is accepting of the gay community.
“Good Chemistry exemplifies a local business who is committed to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Coloradans by treating their employees fairly as well as giving back to the community,” he said in a statement.
Another marijuana business, The Clinic, hosts an annual golf tournament to raise money for the Colorado and Wyoming chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The Clinic’s general manager, Ryan Cook, said employees also participate in an annual MS walk to raise money and have contributed nearly $291,000 since 2009 from that event and the golf tournament.
Kaylin Daniels, donor relations officer at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, noted that medical marijuana use is acceptable among its constituency. And she said states’ approval of medical and particularly recreational pot in Colorado has helped develop a connection with The Clinic.
Just last year, Daniels said, The Clinic “became the top corporate team for Walk MS for Colorado and Wyoming.”
Still, some nonprofits are wary of marijuana donations. The Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation has a policy of not accepting such donations, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Whitehead, because the drug is still illegal federally.
Connie Zimmerman, founder of Colorado Homeless Families, which helps with transitional housing, has not been offered help from marijuana businesses but said she wouldn’t accept it because she considers the drug detrimental to her clients.
“We don’t feel right about accepting donations from the profits and proceeds of the marijuana business that can devalue or diminish the quality of the family and lifestyle relationships of individuals,” Zimmerman said.
Citing a recent FBI report that someone in the United States is arrested every minute on marijuana charges, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders told a nationwide meeting of college students on Oct. 28 that he would take marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs.
Speaking from George Mason University to 250 online student meetings in all 50 states, Sanders said, “In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we’re spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system – including changes in drug laws.”
“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That’s wrong. That has got to change,” he added.
Under the senator’s proposal, people in states which legalize marijuana no longer would be subject to federal prosecution for using pot. Owners of stores that sell marijuana could fully participate in the banking system, like any other business.
States which want to regulate marijuana would remain free to do so the same way local laws now govern sales of alcohol and tobacco. Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, would continue to allow federal law enforcement officials to arrest and prosecute drug dealers for trafficking in marijuana sales.
Highlighting the proposal as part of a criminal justice reform agenda, Sanders noted that there were 620,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2014. That’s one a minute, according to The Washington Post.
Sanders pointed to marijuana arrests as another example of the disparate treatment of African-Americans by the criminal justice system. Although about the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana, a black person is almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, the American Civil Liberties Union has found.
Arrests for marijuana possession rose nationwide last year even as Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the use of marijuana, followed by Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia.
The legalization movement may spread next year when marijuana decriminalization advocates plan to put the question to voters on ballots in Nevada, Arizona and California.
A 2012 estimate calculated that about 20,000-30,000 people are in prison on marijuana possession.
For the first time in history, a state has generated more annual revenue from taxes imposed on marijuana than from taxes imposed on alcohol.
The Colorado Department of Revenue says the state collected nearly $70 million in marijuana-specific taxes and just under $42 million in alcohol-specific taxes from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.
The news comes as Colorado prepared for a “marijuana tax holiday,” during which the state was suspending marijuana-specific taxes for one day.
“Marijuana taxes have been incredibly productive over the past year, so this tax holiday is a much-deserved day off,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project and a co-director of the campaign in support of the 2012 initiative to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol in Colorado.
He added, “This will be the one day out of the year when the state won’t generate significant revenue. Over the other 364 days, it will bring in tens of millions of dollars that will be reinvested in our state.”
Colorado raised nearly $69,898,059 from marijuana-specific taxes in FY 2014-2015, including $43,938,721 from a 10 percent special sales tax on retail marijuana sales to adults and $25,959,338 from a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale transfers of marijuana intended for adult use.
The state raised just under $41,837,647 from alcohol-specific taxes in FY 2014-2015, including $27,309,606 from excise taxes collected on spirited liquors, $8,881,349 from excise taxes on beer, and $5,646,692 from excise taxes collected on vinous liquors. These figures do not include standard state sales taxes or any local taxes.
“It’s crazy how much revenue our state used to flush down the drain by forcing marijuana sales into the underground market,” Tvert said. “It’s even crazier that so many states are still doing it. Tax revenue is just one of many good reasons to replace marijuana prohibition with a system of regulation.”
A state report shows the legalization of gay marriage last year boosted the number of couples tying the knot to the highest rate Wisconsin has reported since 2007.
The Department of Health Services report found there were a total of 32,776 marriages performed in the state in 2014, an increase of 2,797 from the year before.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb last year ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. More than 500 same-sex couples were married within a month of the decision.
The number of divorces also dropped from 15,941 in 2013 to 15,243 in 2014.
Organized labor is assisting efforts to frame a California ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana use in the state, sensing an opportunity to expand its presence in the workplace.
The United Food and Commercial Workers’ Western States Council commissioned a series of focus groups, where likely voters across the state filed into rooms with one-way mirrors to share opinions, The Sacramento Bee reported. The research is aimed at shaping a legalization initiative for the 2016 ballot.
The labor council, an umbrella group for 160,000 grocery and other workers across the state, already has a foothold in the marijuana industry, representing about 1,000 workers in medical cannabis jobs. Jim Araby, its executive director, said it wants to be involved early in the ballot effort and ensure that a proposal contains strong labor protections.
“If you look at the legalization efforts in other parts of the country, questions about creating real training standards for the workforce weren’t a piece of the conversation and dialogue,” Araby said.
California voters, which made the state the first in that nation to decriminalize marijuana use for medical purposes, rejected a broader legalization measure in 2010, a failure that analysts attributed to overreaching language. Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have legalized the drug in recent years.
A recent statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that likely voter support for legalizing recreational marijuana use has grown to 55 percent, up six points since 2010.
Proponents of successful ballot measures must get everything right: from the timing, concept and policy details to the messages, messengers and money, said Ned Wigglesworth, an initiative strategist and partner at Redwood Pacific Public Affairs.
“If it comes off as a sensible, well-considered change in drug policy supported by credible groups, they’ve got a shot,” he said. “If it comes off as a scheme cooked up by potheads, voters will treat it accordingly.”
The union-commissioned surveys, held in February by David Binder Research, asked 48 likely voters were where they stood on the issue. Participants who were paid about $75 each were provided sample ballots, which varied but were consistent in allowing production, processing, delivery, possession and sale of marijuana to adults.
Araby said the proposal should not “try to solve every little problem and overcomplicate” things for voters. He envisions enlisting thousands of campaigners from organized labor who could advertise the effort, hold phone banks and invest in television ads.
“The biggest challenge now,” Araby said, “is to make sure the groups that have the resources to put something on the ballot and pass it all work together.”
About 53 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legalized, according to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center.
The analysis shows that 53 percent support legalization and 44 percent support keeping use of the drug illegal.
The shift in public opinion occurred between 2011, when 45 percent supported legalization, and 2013, when 52 percent said they supported legalization.
The survey also looked at public opinion on the issue by gender, race and political persuasion and found:
• 57 percent of men and 49 percent of women support legalization.
• 55 percent of whites, 58 percent of blacks and 40 percent of Hispanics support legalization.
• 68 percent of millennials, 52 percent of Gen Xers, 50 percent of Boomers and 29 percent of the Silent generation support legalization.
• 58 percent of college graduates and 47 percent of high school graduates support legalization.
• 39 percent of Republicans, 58 percent of independents and 59 percent of Democrats support legalization.
Asked whether federal authorities should enforce U.S. marijuana laws in states that legalized use, 59 percent said no. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents agreed on that issue.
Asked “If marijuana were legal, would it bother you if” and given several scenarios, people were more likely to be bothered by pot use in public than anywhere else:
• 62 percent said they’d be bothered if people used marijuana in public.
• 41 percent said they’d be bothered by a business selling marijuana in their neighborhood.
• 15 percent said they’d be bothered by use in their homes.
On the question of personal use, just 49 percent of people surveyed said they’d ever tried marijuana. Women are less likely to say they’ve tried marijuana than men.
Generationally, the members of the Silent generation — 70-87 years old — were far more likely to say they’ve never tried the drug. About 81 percent of older Americans and 48 percent of millennials say they’ve never tried marijuana.
The nation’s most influential pediatricians group updated its policy on marijuana to recommend the drug be removed from the government’s most restrictive category, which includes heroin and other narcotics said to have no accepted medical use.
The American Academy of Pediatrics proposed reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II controlled substance to allow for greater scientific research and experimentation.
The academy also said marijuana could be a viable treatment option for severely ill children. The new AAP policy, published online in Pediatrics, said pediatric use should only be considered “for children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate.”
The AAP does not advocate legalizing recreational marijuana and it does not deal with marijuana use among adults.
The AAP policy was last updated in 2004. Since then, marijuana laws have changed considerably. Four states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — have legalized recreational marijuana while 19 states have decriminalized pot possession in small amounts. Also, 23 states have legalized medical marijuana.
The Marijuana Policy Project, an organization at the forefront of reforming drug laws, is lobbying to pass a medical marijuana bill in Pennsylvania this year or next year and in Texas in 2015 or 2017. The MPP also is working to expand access under Minnesota’s medical marijuana provision and helping to implement the legislation in Illinois, where the first retail licenses were issued earlier this month.
Illinois lawmakers also could decriminalize marijuana this year and make pot a ticketable offense. Elsewhere, decriminalization is on the legislative agenda in Hawaii, Virginia, Delaware and New Hampshire.
“Criminalizing someone for possessing a small amount of marijuana causes far more harm than marijuana itself,” said Matt Simon, the Goffstown, New Hampshire-based New England political director for the MPP.
Three out of five adults in New Hampshire support removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession, according to a WMUR Granite State Poll released last April.
In neighboring Vermont, lawmakers could pass recreational marijuana legislation this year or next. But, with bipartisan support for a bill, Rhode Island is in a position to become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the legislative process rather than by ballot initiative.
At the federal level, American Indian tribes attending a conference later this month plan to discuss the legalization of pot. Their move follows a Justice Department announcement in December clearing the way for tribes to grow and sell marijuana.
And members of the U.S. House are considering a pair of bills that would end federal marijuana prohibition, as well as a measure sponsored by three Democrats and five Republicans that would allow Veterans Affairs doctors to prescribe medical marijuana.
“Our antiquated drug laws must catch up with the real suffering of so many of our veterans,” said U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a co-sponsor of the Veterans Equal Access Act. “This is now a moral cause and a matter of supreme urgency. It is unconscionable that a VA doctor cannot offer a full range of treatments, including medical marijuana … to an American veteran who fought valiantly for our country. Conscience dictates that we not coldly ignore these desperate men and women and that we remove government from its paternalistic stance between patient and doctor.”
More than 20 percent of the 2.8 million U.S. veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD and depression. In addition, a recent study found that of the nearly 1 million veterans who receive opioids to treat painful conditions, more than half continue to consume chronically or beyond 90 days. Another study found that the death rate from opiate overdoses among VA patients is about double the national average.
The bill’s sponsors said in states where these patients can legally access medical marijuana, the hands of VA doctors should not be tied.
“We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows,” said U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. “It’s shameful.”
On the books…
In Wisconsin, AB 726 exempts a very limited class of people from criminal penalties for the use and possession of cannabidiol “in a form without a psychoactive effect.” The law, signed by the governor last April, allows people with seizure disorders to get their physician’s approval to possess cannabidiol. However, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, the legislation “doesn’t give patients a realistic way to obtain their medicine in Wisconsin” and “may be unworkable even for the limited population it’s meant to help.”
Medical marijuana bills have repeatedly been offered in Wisconsin, and a bill likely will be introduced this legislative session. Advocates, however, do not expect it to reach a floor vote.