In the opening days of the Arizona Legislature's 54th session, two competing bills hit the stands this month, one in support of the state's medical marijuana industry, and one to start chipping away at it.
The latest, from Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, aims to protect the state's medical marijuana program from the pesky federal government following Attorney General Jeff Sessions' blessing to U.S. attorneys to start pursuing charges against marijuana business and users.
House Bill 2144, introduced Jan. 10, restricts state and local law enforcement employees from assisting the feds in any "investigation, detention or prosecution" of medical marijuana patients and workers.
The bill also forbids state funds and assets from being used to assist federal law enforcement if they were to start harassing people in the medical marijuana industry.
Cardenas has long supported legalization efforts in Arizona, introducing bills the past few years in attempts to legalize marijuana recreationally and decrease federal penalties for possession. He took the opportunity of introducing this bill to respond to Sessions' memo the week before.
"This move by Sessions makes no sense from a law enforcement, medical, human or economic perspective, so Arizona leaders should not just sit still and let it happen," he said. "The Sessions decision is out of step with where we are as a country on this issue, and it is causing undue stress for patients and those employed in the cannabis industry."
Cardenas hasn't had much luck with his past marijuana-centric legislation, but a renewed sense of urgency and growing support (perhaps even with the state legislature itself) should give a boost to his agenda.
The other bill, introduced by Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Apache Junction, actually attempts to restrict free speech as it pertains to the state's marijuana industry.
Senate Bill 1060, introduced Jan. 5, would impose a Class 6 felony with a $10,000 fine for publications that list dispensary information that doesn't reflect dispensaries' registration certificates.
This extends to product lines and services provided by dispensaries and requires publications to verify registration. The bill pertains to listings such as those included in the Tucson Weekly.
What Farnsworth seems to misunderstand is that accuracy is a paramount tenant to publishing such information, and any restrictions imposed on providing that information conflict with the free press's prerogative to provide information it deems necessary.
What would make this bill less surprising would be if Farnsworth hadn't just last month introduced legislation aimed at outlawing marijuana advertisements on billboards—another attempt at restricting free speech.
Farnsworth may be on to something as a marijuana detractor.
One of the best weapons in the fight to legalize marijuana is the proliferation of good information about the effects and industry of the drug. If he succeeds in stifling that information, it may never get the chance to rightly inform the public on the benefits of legalization.
Once again, Farnsworth demonstrates that he believes enumerated rights should only apply to causes he agrees with, a stance that seems popular in today's political atmosphere.