Arizona's cannabis industry has enjoyed a healthy boost since the COVID pandemic took hold in March, with sales hitting all-time highs two months in a row.
Thanks to the "essential business" designation dispensaries enjoyed at the outset of the shutdown, the Arizona cannabis industry has not been adversely affected like other types of businesses in the face of shelter-in-place and uncertainties about the future, both economically and politically.
"Dispensary sales are up significantly for the period of March to the present and they have largely done a great job managing the increase in business," said Aari Ruben, owner of Desert Bloom Releaf Center in Tucson. "We've done it while maintaining social distancing measures and through a variety of strategies."
With COVID protocols firmly in place, Arizona dispensaries have managed to provide medicine to patients while maintaining a supply chain that can be difficult during the best of times, with increased risks because of the threat of exposure to the virus.
"The overall market had supply chain issues," Ruben said. "At Desert Bloom, our inventory levels are stable."
According to monthly reports released by the Arizona Department of Health Services, which oversees the state's MMJ program, statewide sales of cannabis for the month of August reached a total of 18,516 pounds of various forms of marijuana from leaf to edibles. That comes after July saw an explosion totaling 18,647 pounds sold.
Those numbers are about 1,500 pounds more than the month of March, which weighed in at 17,094 pounds, and nearly a ton and a half more than January, at 15,302 pounds.
The numbers also dwarf sales from a year ago, when in August 2019 statewide sales reached 14,745 pounds after 13,983 in July.
Year-to-date sales through August 2020 were 136,493 pounds, compared to 105,241 in 2019.
Downtown Dispensary owner Moe Asnani said his increase in sales can be attributed to an increase in the number of patients with certifications and in part because of the new electronic card system that started in December 2019. Additionally, certificates are now valid for two years and the wait for cards to be mailed has been eliminated, so patients can use their cards right away.
"Sales are increasing and to some degree, it's an increase in the number of patients," he said. "[During the pandemic] it's important to them. There is a lot of depression and pharmaceutical use has gone up, so it's a good alternative."
As to the essential business designation, Asnani said the state had no choice but to keep dispensaries open.
"Ducey had no authority to shut us down," he said. "The law says dispensaries must stay open. They are the same as a pharmacy."
Asnani added that the economic performance of the MMJ industry is an example of what could be possible if the plant was legalized both on a state and federal level.
"We've discovered that our economy is built on a soft foundation," he said. "When cannabis is legal it can be a strong form of economic activity."
Biden-Harris ticket vows to legalize weed
Last week in this space, The Weekly's Cannabis 520 columnist reported on the federal Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act that was set to go before the House of Representatives for a vote that would have sent the bill to a Republican-controlled Senate, where it would have faced certain failure.
As these things happen, on the date of publication House Democrats announced they were pulling the vote until after the November elections. Hopefully, for the sake of American citizens who would like to enjoy cannabis without a hassle—and the survival of our democracy—the Senate will change hands and we can start to fix the damage inflicted on the American people through decades of spending in the War on Drugs.
Southern Arizona NORML director Mike Robinette was not surprised by the delay, yet remains hopeful that the efforts of everyone involved in the creation of MORE will eventually result in a new direction for federal pot laws.
"While we are extremely disappointed in the delay of a floor vote on the MORE Act, we take solace in the fact that the vote should still come up on the floor in November. Southern Arizona NORML is incredibly proud of the work done by national NORML and Political Director Justin Strekal in getting 25 percent of the house to co-sponsor the MORE Act," Robinette wrote in a recent email. "This delay does nothing to ameliorate the dichotomy of federal prohibition and more liberalized state marijuana laws and postpones justice reforms for those people who have been disproportionately affected by the drug war and draconian marijuana laws. We remain confident that we will see the floor vote to fruition in November."
As of Monday, Sept. 21, there were 113 co-sponsors in the House, including one Republican, Matt Gaetz of Florida. Three Arizona Democrats, Ruben Gallego, Raul Grijalva and Ann Kirkpatrick, are among those signed on to the bill. On the Senate side, vice-presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris, who co-sponsored MORE on the Senate side, has strongly advocated for "decriminalization and engagement," stating it would be part of the Biden-Harris agenda should they be elected.
"Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana-use convictions, and end incarceration for drug use alone," Harris said in a recent town hall on ABC television. "This is no time, from our collective perspective, for half-steppin'."
A recent poll shows that unless turnout is low this year, voters are likely to support Prop 207, the Smart and Safe Arizona bill legalizing weed in the state.
The Monmouth University poll of 420 registered voters (margin of error +/- 4.8 percentage points), conducted Sept. 11-15, indicated that among registered voters, 51 percent indicated they would vote in favor of legalization, while 41 would vote against it with a normal voter turnout. The margin would shrink to 49 percent in favor and 43 percent against in a high-turnout election, which this one promises to be.
The gap completely disappears in a low turnout scenario to a 47-47 percent pick 'em. Prop 205, the 2016 attempt at legalization, failed by a vote of 48.7 percent to 51.3 percent.
The political party breakdown in support for 207 comes from 67 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents, but just 32 percent Republican.
Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, the political committee opposed to Prop 207, said the poll shows voters are swinging toward rejecting the initiative.
"These poll results and extensive leadership opposition indicate Arizona voters can see past the fancy title and slick marketing to the consequences of such a lengthy and self-serving initiative written by marijuana stakeholders," stated Lisa James, chair of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety in a press release.
Other polls had shown strong support for the initiative. A May poll by Phoenix political consulting firm HighGround showed that roughly two-thirds of those surveyed were leaning toward voting yes on Prop 207, while only one out of four voters were opposed. Even among Republican voters, 56 percent supported the proposition while 36 percent were opposed. Self-described "very conservative" voters split evenly, with roughly 48 percent in support and 48 percent opposed.Correction: This article originally incorrectly identified Aari Ruben's dispensary. The Weekly apologizes for the error.