Arizona Weed Is Exclusive, Expensive, Won't Be Legal for a Long Time
Weed can't tame the Wild West if it doesn't first get legal there.
“I think everybody can have a piece of the pie, but you've got to get out and cut yourself a slice,” Sean Sherwood tells KINDLAND.
While still in college, Sherwood ran a streetwear brand out of his Tucson, Arizona, apartment. He also worked as a delivery driver for one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries in the desert state, before founding his own legal cannabis operation, CREAM Cannabis Confectionery––which specializes in edibles, and operates its own delivery service. Sherwood is one of many entrepreneurs working to make a mark in Arizona's marijuana industry––a landscape of expensive regulatory fees, day-to-day legislative changes, and pricey weed.
“Arizona weed: it's like California weed, just more expensive,” Sherwood tells KINDLAND in an email.
Image via KJZZ
He isn’t referring only to the local price of pot, but the bigger picture of “legal” marijuana in Arizona, where even to register as a patient, applicants must pay $150 annually for a medical marijuana license. (For comparison, California mmj patients pay around $40 for their weed cards the first time around, and each subsequent renewal thereafter.)
Voters in the Grand Canyon State passed Proposition 203 in 2010, which legalized a medical marijuana program. But the pro-pot law passed by a slim, nearly non-existent majority (50.1 percent to 49.9 percent), and only after voters had rejected three previous ballot initiatives. No wonder getting your hands on medical pot in Arizona isn’t always the easiest task.
“[At first] patient cards were being issued by the state, but there were no state-licensed dispensaries open for patients to purchase medicine,” says Sherwood. “This lead to the rise of quasi-legal and less-regulated caregiver collectives and delivery services, operating within specific loopholes of [the law.]"
Sherwood sees the current state of Arizona weed as a "regulated monopoly" (the state capped the number of dispensary licenses at 125), and says finding success “is much more about ‘who you know’ than anything."
Sherwood holds this view in part because the rules governing the medical market change––like most medical weed states––on a seemingly weekly basis.
"My path in the medical marijuana scene has evolved a lot with the local industry itself," he says. "[When that regulatory loophole] was closed in mid-2015, we took our edible products to the state-licensed dispensary market."
"Arizona weed: it's like California weed, just more expensive."
For now, Sherwood says the state keeps a fairly tight lid on what will fly in the AZ weed world.
“Every grow facility, infusion kitchen, and dispensary is inspected by the state multiple times per year,” Sherwood tells KINDLAND. “[Medical cannabis operations] are also required to have cameras in every room of their operation, which can be accessed remotely by the state 24 hours a day.”
And it's not like law enforcement is easing up on how cops police pot, and the people using it recreationally. In July of 2016, the state Supreme Court ruled that the smell of marijuana––smoked or unsmoked; at a suspected grow-operation, or even during routine traffic stops––is enough to warrant a search.
"The odor of marijuana in most circumstances will warrant a reasonable person believing there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime is present,” wrote Arizona Chief Justice Scott Bales, Reuters reports.
Image via Facebook
In Arizona, weed is still really illegal for the most part. In March of this year, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Drug Suppression Task Force––a law enforcement supergroup that includes local cops, Arizona Attorney General's Office personnel, and U.S. Border Patrol and Drug Enforcement Administration agents––reportedly seized more than 600 weed plants, some weapons, and $100,000 in cash, after a raid on a Phoenix grow-op.
Sherwood, who grew up in Tucson, is also the son of a police officer.
"My strict upbringing made me rebel and push back even harder to social norms regarding cannabis, once I was exposed to it," he says. "Luckily, along with the culture shift we've seen in the past decade or so, most of my family members' opinion on marijuana has 'evolved,' even my old man's."
This perceived changing of attitudes might manifest as an actionable chorus, and re-write the narrative of Arizona cannabis completely, should voters pass Proposition 205––a recreational marijuana-use initiative on the ballot this coming November. Groups advocating for the passage of Prop 205 look to Colorado––which operates both medical and recreational marijuana programs that generate income for the state––as an example of a model system; citing reports of projected state revenues from legal weed sales taxed at 15 percent and regulatory fees for businesses entering the space.
Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, an advocacy organization promoting Prop 205, cites a July 2016 fiscal analysis completed by the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee that would earmark nearly $500M in yearly weed sales for use in social programs and state education budgets.
Local Phoenix media breaks down just where each dollar spent on recreational smoke would end up:
“. . . After paying for upkeep of the marijuana department, 80 percent of revenue would go to school districts and charter schools, weighted based on number of students. Half of that money would be earmarked for overhead––from construction to paying teacher salaries. The other half would be used to provide full-day kindergarten instruction. The final 20 percent of the revenue would go to the state's health department for public education on the harms of drug use, including marijuana and alcohol.”
How much the upkeep of the Arizona weed department will cost is still anyone's guess, but license applications for retail weed stores reportedly costing hopeful legal-dealers $20,000, the funds are expected to be available.
Groups opposing the recreational initiative, such as the Arizonans For Responsible Drug Policy, might actually be fighting a losing battle. Earlier this month, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry dismissed a complaint filed by the anti-weed organization, which said the language in Prop 205 is unclear to voters at the ballot box, and won’t be good for the Grand Canyon State’s bottom line.
According to The Cannabist, a rep for the group told Gentry that passing Prop 205 is “potentially extremely damaging to Arizona’s economy and we will continue to oppose it vigorously.”
Prop 205 supporters see things differently, and bring up numbers from the JLBC analysis, which says $55 million will go to Arizona school districts annually. And AZ employers will still be able to fire any stoned employees, should Prop 205 pass; so what's the beef?
Medical marijuana patient
Despite any back-and-forth, or bureaucratic missteps, players like Sean Sherwood are intent on remaining in the game, hoping for the best, and keeping a positive attitude.
“My mind is blown daily by the ingenuity, creativity and raw innovation we're seeing with the legalization of cannabis state-by-state,” Sherwood tells KINDLAND. “I admit things are definitely getting ‘corporate,’ and the local marijuana farmer is becoming an endangered species, but I firmly believe the grassroots or ‘underground’ will continue to fuel innovation where bigger, more stagnant companies cannot.”
While entrepreneurs should hope to be as stoked as Sherwood is, on the prospect of weed being at least as legal as alcohol, in a state that is also home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world––nobody should be holding out for clear-cut legislation that doesn’t have more than a few cracks in its surface.
Even if Prop 205 passes in November, the law wouldn't go into effect until September 2018.