Photo by JC Amberlyn.
KINGMAN – If the turnout for Thursday’s public forum in favor of legalizing marijuana is any indication, it’s going to be a close vote on Proposition 205 at the Nov. 8 election.
About 20 citizens showed up at the Mohave County Democratic Party headquarters in downtown Kingman to listen to Mikel Weisser, state director for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, talk about the history of marijuana and its healing powers.
It was about the same number of people who attended an anti-pot meeting hosted by Kingman Republican Women on Sept. 14.
The tiny, upstairs meeting room was clearly occupied by a partisan crowd who praised Weisser’s words like a preacher and reaffirmed his declarations that marijuana is safer than alcohol and that black market sales have declined since 25 states approved medical marijuana.
“What you see on television is still ‘Reefer Madness,’” Weisser said in reference to the 1930s government propaganda movie aimed at scaring Americans about the use of marijuana. “(Arizona Governor) Doug Ducey is still stuck on ‘Reefer Madness.’”
Weisser, a former history teacher, spent a little over an hour extolling the reasons voters should get out and vote for Prop 205, the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, which would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to six plants for anyone over age 21.
More than 16,000 people were arrested for marijuana-related charges in Arizona last year, and while some of the charges may have been reduced or dismissed, “you don’t have to go to prison to have your life ruined,” Weisser said.
He mentioned celebrities who did jail time for marijuana possession, including Louis Armstrong in the 1930s and Stan Getz and Robert Mitchum in the 1950s.
Weisser talked about the earliest known cannabis plants dating back to 2700 B.C., when the Chinese made rope and fabric from hemp plants.
Medical marijuana gained acceptance in the 1980s when people were dying from the AIDS epidemic that swept through gay communities in San Francisco. They found pain relief from the herb, and soon cancer patients were being prescribed marijuana to manage pain.
Though not a scientist, Weisser explained that the human body is designed with built-in “cannabinoid receptors” that connect with marijuana to begin medicinal protective and healing processes.
Weisser came down on former President Richard Nixon for classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, placing it in the same category as heroin and LSD. Nixon made sure it couldn’t be sold at a pharmacy, he said.
“Any government official who tells you marijuana is bad was either lied to or they’re lying to you,” the NORML director said.
Betsy Senn, secretary of Mohave County NORML, said she stopped drinking in 1967 and started smoking marijuana.
“And I’m a much better person for it,” she said. “I rescue animals. I have excellent credit. I ran a successful business. I’m a responsible, tax-paying member of society and I play a mean game of bingo.”
Travin Pennington, wearing a NORML T-shirt, invited everyone to attend a presentation by Adam Kinsey, campaign manager for Prop 205, at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 11 at Diana’s Cellar Door, 414 Beale St.
“I see the cannabis industry as the potential next wine industry,” he said. “Who would’ve thought Valle Vista would produce wine? Sure enough, it is. We can have the same thing for marijuana.”
One member of the audience pointed to the medical marijuana dispensary on Northern Avenue that does $2 million a year in business.
“That seems like a big missed opportunity for the city. So if Prop 205 does pass, I’d hope the city wouldn’t miss out,” he said.
The legal U.S. cannabis industry is estimated to reach $7.1 billion revenue this year, a 25 percent increase from 2015, according to Medical Marijuana Inc. ArcView Group, a cannabis-based investment firm, projects the industry could easily generate $10 billion in sales by 2018.
“Investors have shown interest in various types of cannabis-related businesses,” said Serge Chistov, financial backer for the Honest Marijuana Company. “For example, investors are paying attention to the fact that organically-grown cannabis is here to stay and is going to be a huge segment of the market.”
Top investment categories for the marijuana market are cultivation and operations; medical dispensaries; legal recreational retailers; edibles and infused products; service firms such as security, software and setup consulting; ancillary products; and legal hemp products.
Prop 205 allows 160 marijuana dispensary licenses in Arizona, but that’s only the retail part of it, Weisser noted. There will also be cultivators, commodity brokers, manufacturers and testers, along with retailers.
Medical marijuana was passed in Arizona in 2010, but took a couple years to get “out of the gate,” Weisser said. Sales skyrocketed from $40 million in 2013 or $215 million last year.
Kingman City Councilman Stuart Yocum asked how Weisser would respond to negative propaganda from other states that have legalized recreational marijuana use. Teenage use has skyrocketed in Colorado, traffic fatalities have increased and schools are not receiving promised tax revenue, Yocum said.
“Lies. All lies,” Weisser answered. “Check the statistics. You’re going to hear all kinds of statistics. This is going be like (Donald) Trump vs. the truth.”
Proponents of Prop 205 say it will generate more than $120 million in annual tax revenue, including $55 million for K-12 education and $14 million for public health programs.