Demetri Downing is a best friend to Arizona’s Cannabis community and founder of the Southwest Cannabis Conference.  He’s our unlikely hero, a prosecutor turned cannabis ambassador, who firmly believes in the power of the cannabis plant to heal people.  He also believes in free enterprise and sound business strategy.  We sat down with him to […]

 In Main Sub Feat, Opinion

Demetri Downing is a best friend to Arizona’s Cannabis community and founder of the Southwest Cannabis Conference.  He’s our unlikely hero, a prosecutor turned cannabis ambassador, who firmly believes in the power of the cannabis plant to heal people.  He also believes in free enterprise and sound business strategy.  We sat down with him to discuss the state of cannabis in Arizona.

When asked about his confidence in Arizona becoming a recreational state in 2018, he implied basically 0%.  Downing explained that any legislative efforts for 2018 will certainly fail due to lack of partisan support.  A bill would have to be introduced by February and conservative Republicans are not on board yet to publicly support cannabis legislation.  Most likely, a bill will not be introduced at all in 2018.  Another hindrance to legislative efforts in 2018 are elections. Senate elections will be held in August and Governor Ducey will be up for second term re-election.  Downing says not to expect any new cannabis legislation during a gubernatorial year.  There is a slight chance to introduce a bill through initiative effort.  However, this is unlikely due to the 150,000 signatures needed in such a short amount of time.  This kind of effort requires greater group cooperation and lobbying presence at the local level of government.  The 2018 initiative was poorly written and didn’t protect the existing industry that fought so hard for patients so far.  The companies who pioneered medicinal cannabis in AZ and obtained the first licenses need to be respected during the legalization process.  If there is enough signature support to proceed with an initiative it will likely be shut down at the local level by the chamber of commerce.  It’s similar to Prop 205 which failed for several reasons besides the millions that were spent to campaign against it.  It was poorly written and only about 5% of people involved actually read it, according to Downing.  

The post election climate of 2019 is a better environment to drum up support for a bill.  The Conservative Republicans should be more willing to show public support for a sensible cannabis bill.  They will see the benefit of it as a business regardless of their stance on medicine.  “It’s obvious that there is a sweet spot between prohibition and legal weed, a number of licenses and producers to create a healthy market but this formula doesn’t exist yet.” says Downing.  We can look at Nevada or California but the numbers will not apply to our state.  The hurdle is to write a comprehensive bill that protects the existing industry while allowing new opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs.  Sensible cannabis legislation needs to also include procedure for expungements and set asides of cannabis offenses.  Downing and our good friend, Phoenix attorney, Thomas Dean will fight to apply this to any cannabis bill.  This is important to be done during the creation of the legislation or it’s likely to not happen at all.  This is Arizona’s chance to enter the recreational market with a solid foundation for cannabis patients and businesses.  

If this doesn’t happen in 2019, an initiative will be put on the ballot for 2020.  By this time in 2020, the climate should be more friendly politically and socially towards cannabis.  California and Nevada will be fully legalized and downing is confident that a cannabis bill is certain to pass during a presidential election year.  

By then we will have many more patients, facilities and products publicly promoting the healing powers of cannabis.  New activists groups will be strong enough to introduce a bill through initiative.  This will be an initiative co authored by patients, activists and the cannabis industry among a broad share of stakeholders.  Downing says he’ll do everything he can to involve as many pro-cannabis groups as possible.  He warns that if the effort isn’t large enough there will be opposition.  If the effort is well coordinated then lawmakers will not have a say about it because of voting support.  By then we can have sound policy in place that takes care of the patients, the new consumers and respects the existing industry while expanding and opening up the new market to entrepreneurs.  

It’s reassuring to know that our city has strong public figures who are determined to create a higher standard for adult use and cannabis business markets.  Demetri is a force to be reckoned with and his energy has clearly carried over from his prosecutor days.  With this kind of expertise at work Arizona will surely become THE State of Cannabis!  

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