Primary Elections bring new potential allies to reform battle


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By Mikel Weiser, AZ-NORML

With August primaries completed, Arizona’s cannabis community can look forward to an improved reform landscape at the State Capitol come January.  AZ-NORML, the state chapter of the national organization, produced an incumbent score card and analysis of all 100+ races on the 2018 primary ballot.  The score card, which ran nearly 7,000 words, received national attention from NORML headquarters and has been featured in The Phoenix New Times and  With 90 state legislators, 9 Members of Congress, 7 statewide offices, and one U.S. Senator up for election, AZ-NORML interviewed more than 300 candidates in various races.  While some general election races may prove too close to call, polls have already selected some early winners on November 6th.

Bright spots at the federal level include the re-election of pro-cannabis Members of Congress Ruben Gallego, Raul Grijalva, and former pro-MMJ Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. In the gubernatorial race, while a long-shot to win, pro-reform candidate David Garcia is likely to push incumbent Doug Ducey on the issue. In much the same way, Democrat January Contreras and longtime Libertarian cannabis champion, Michael Kielsky, will be challenging Mark Brnovich’s “under-the-radar” positioning on the issue in the Attorney General race.

At the legislative level, numerous longtime advocates cinched their party nominations in lopsided districts that should guarantee their return to fighting for the cause. LD5’s GOP Senator Sonny Borrelli was the (pardon the pun) highest-profile reformer last session, passing the state’s first pro-cannabis legislation in memory, with his successful hemp bill. Borrelli also pushed for 3 other cannabis reform bills including the controversial cannabis testing bill. Borrelli’s right hand man in the House, LD21’s Kevin Payne, also is returning on the GOP side.

On the negative side, hardcore prohibitionist Kimberly Yee, locked down the GOP nom for treasurer. Though much more favorable on the issue, Dem challenger Mark Manoil, received over 100,000 fewer votes than Yee and her primary opponent. We can also expect the return of other ardent prohibitionists like Kelly Townsend, John Kavanagh, Vince Leach, and both Eddie and David Farnsworth.

Although the Democrats lost the legislature’s leading cannabis reformer, Mark Cardenas (who did not seek re-election for his LD19 House seat), Cardenas’ seatmate, Diego Espinosa was handily re-elected. As were pro-reform Senators Lisa Otondo, Andrea Dalessandro, David Bradley, Juan Mendez and Martin Quezada.  Lela Alston, having termed out in the House, will likely join them in the Senate. Cannabis’ reigning Democratic lead reformer, LD9’s Pam Powers-Hannley, handily won re-nomination in a comparatively safe seat. Other allies returning include LD2’s Rosana Gabaldon, LD4’s Charlene Fernandez, LD10 Republican Todd Clodfelter, LD26’s Isla Blanc and Athena Salman, LD 28 Kelli Butler and LD29’s Cesar Chavez.  Joining the reform team are likely to be returning legislator, Victoria Steele (heading to the LD9 Senate slot), LD27’s Diego Rodriguez, who challenged Bill Montgomery in 2016 for Maricopa County Attorney, and Democratic powerhouse, Rachel Teran in LD30.

AZ-NORML will be releasing an updated candidate score card and list of endorsements in time for the general election in November.

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