Mikel Weisser, candidate for congress in District 4, was one of the speakers at the Democrats of the Red Rocks’ breakfast forum on Thursday, Sept. 15.
Weisser lent his support to Proposition 205, which will appear on the November ballot and aims to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana.
Weisser told his own first experience smoking marijuana. In his teens, he ran away and hitchhiked with someone who offered him a drag. Not too long after, the vehicle was stopped by the police. Weisser didn’t admit to having anything and avoided a possession charge.
He said the No. 1 reason he supports recreational legalization is to eliminate that fear of the police knocking on one’s door. Citing times he had smoked with homeless to millionaires, he said turning about 10 percent of the population who use marijuana into criminals was unacceptable.
Weisser, a former school teacher and worker at a homeless shelter, said that beyond taking away the stigma, Prop 205 adequately protects those under 21 from accessing the drug and will help bring an already billion-dollar industry into the legal marketplace to be regulated and taxed.
Proposition campaign manager Adam Kinsey was also on hand as a spokesman in favor of the proposition. The goal of regulating marijuana like alcohol was fourfold, he said. One goal was to eliminate the point of sale for minors — drug dealers — while educating children of the risks.
Education funding is provided by the excise tax to be put on recreational marijuana: 40 percent to risk education, 40 percent to funding full-day kindergarten and 20 percent straight into K-12 coffers. Written into the law is language that prevents the state legislature from changing this allocation.
Weisser said the money was badly needed, and is best for the state’s children as school districts are currently “cutting things down to the bone,” which negatively impacts opportunity down the line.
Beyond tax benefits, Kinsey said voters should not worry about a sudden flood of marijuana. He pointed out several things the ballot measure will not do. Driving while stoned will still be illegal — Kinsey pointed to developing technology that will make this easier to determine — consumption will not be allowed in public and it does not change penalties for selling marijuana for those who have no license.
Regulation has been proven to work, Kinsey said, pointing street dealing dangers as the alternative. Kinsey said it would also limit the exposure to other illegal substances.
In addition, use would become safer, he said. Labeling would be regulated, showing potency levels, strains and weights to inform consumers. The community would also see safety benefits as violent cartels lost business.
The point Kinsey said was important for Democrats was the social justice element. Far more blacks and Hispanics than whites are arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar use rates. With marijuana legally regulated, Kinsey said it would help reform criminal justice imbalances.
Marijuana-related arrests number 20 million, Weisser said, ruining lives at what he described as “Holocaust levels.”
He also pointed to the history of prohibition attempts in general to stem the flow of economic and ethnic migration, citing racist language written into the laws.
Weisser was asked, should the proposition pass, how he would reconcile the measure with federal law if he is also elected. Currently, marijuana is a Schedule 1 banned substance.
Weisser said the federal government is hypocritical with this claim, as it holds a marijuana patent that includes more than 20 uses for the drug. Combined with that, if all recreational marijuana measures pass this year, it would be legal to access at the state level by 60 percent of the U.S. population. The two factors should allow pro-legalization efforts to pressure the end of federal prohibition.
Both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump have said they will honor President Barack Obama’s laissez-faire philosophy on federal enforcement, Weisser said. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson has said he would legalize the substance on a federal level.
Ed Gogek, an addiction therapist, said it was the one issue that he could not get on board with as a Democrat.
Gogek claimed that marijuana directly leads to violent crime and psychosis. He said that people are more happier sober and that the drug is marketed to children even under Proposition 205’s language.
He said that edibles — marijuana infused foods — expressly target children. Without children in the market, private entrepreneurs will give up on trying to make a profit, he said.
Kinsey pointed out that the vitamin he takes every day was a gummy, though it was specifically marketed to adults.
Weisser noted that this was just capitalism at work. Consumers are always seeking more enjoyable products. Improved edibles are good for the consumer, therefore, and also good for workers’ pride. He said he didn’t think smoking was necessarily the best option and said it would be good for society’s overall health to keep consumption options for the public.
As far as marijuana-related violence Gogek provided anecdotes from his patients, but no statistics. Kinsey and Weisser both said addiction levels — 2 percent to 9 percent of users — and cost are too low to provoke violent behavior.
The discussion became heated during the Q&A. Gogek took issue with what he saw as a fairness problem. He had previously stated he would receive only five minutes to speak, and called it a silencing effort. He bogarted the mic from both Kinsey and DORR moderator and President Karen McClelland when asked to relinquish it, and was hesitant to let Kinsey and Weisser respond to his statements.
One question was that Prop 205 may create a monopoly: Only a limited number of licenses will be given out, with preference for the first year given to medical dispensaries currently in operation. In addition, the regulating board would contain three members who must be involved in the industry.
Kinsey said that the board would have seven members with industry representatives given an intentional minority.
More licenses could be issued, Kinsey said, similar to the liquor license process. The marketplace would be measured by how the illegal market is doing, in which case another license may be issued to combat it. Licenses could be expanded by 2020 if the initiative passes.
The study showing a drop in teenage IQ after use was also brought up, which Gogek agreed with. Weisser pointed to another study debunking it and Kinsey said that studying marijuana scientifically can lead to cherry-picked results.
Regarding marijuana as a “gateway drug,” Weisser said he thought that concept had been abandoned years ago.
Kinsey said the proposition does not support any marijuana use by those under 21 and that no one claimed the drug was totally harmless.
Kinsey said that a major opiate-producing corporation — Insys Therapeutics — donated $500,000 to combat the measure, primarily because marijuana could lead to a loss of revenue for its drug. Kinsey pointed that the opiod drug problem, which can lead to overdose deaths, is related to prescription pill abuse.
All agreed that something should be done so that marijuana charges — especially possession — not ruin people’s lives. Gogek was in favor of a type of expungement program to help with employment.
For more information from the pro side of Proposition 205, visit regulatemarijuanainarizona.org. The website contains the full ballot measure but a keyword search of the measure will lead to several other sources. For more on Weisser’s campaign, visit, weisserforcongress.com.
Gogek’s book on marijuana is titled “Marijuana Debunked: A Handbook for Parents, Pundits and Politicians Who Want To Know the Case Against Legalization.”