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Humble: Implementing Recreational Marijuana In Arizona Will Be Easier Than Medical Marijuana

By Steve Goldstein, Mark Brodie, Lauren Gilger
Published: Wednesday, November 4, 2020 - 12:31pm
Updated: Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - 1:16pm

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Young marijuana plants at Copperstate Farms
Tim Agne/KJZZ
Young marijuana plants at Copperstate Farms in Snowflake, Arizona, in 2019.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Arizonans have voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Nearly 60% of the ballots counted supported Proposition 207. With a historic win, Arizona joins ranks with states like California, Colorado and Maine. Arizonans 21 years and older will be able to legally possess and use marijuana as soon as late November after all the votes are counted and the results are certified. And with us for a few minutes to give his take on the win is Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and the former state health director. Will, good morning.

WILL HUMBLE: Morning, Steve. How are you doing?

GOLDSTEIN: Doing great. So wanted to talk to you about this in part because of all the work you had to do in implementing Arizona's medical marijuana program. Was this a natural progression? Does the win surprise you at all?

HUMBLE: No, the win doesn't surprise me. I knew it was going to happen, whether it happened this, you know, at this election or whether it was in two years or four years — I mean, I knew it was going to happen. So I'm not surprised, really. No, not surprised at all.

GOLDSTEIN: How does this affect things potentially from a public health perspective? Obviously, there are some who've been opposed, who are concerned that maybe this gives kids more access, even though the proposition was not written that way.

HUMBLE: Yeah, good question. So it actually took me a long time to make up my mind on how I was going to vote on this, because there are pluses and minuses to Prop. 207 in terms of public health. On the good side is really the criminal justice reform part of it. And that was what in the end compelled me to vote "yes." And what I mean by that is that the existing marijuana laws — up until this election is certified — really do more harm than good in terms of public health, because people get — especially people of color, lower income people — disproportionately get charged with and convicted of marijuana possession, less than an ounce for their own personal use. And and you heard prosecutors say, 'Well, but very few people do jail time for that.' And I'm not concerned about the jail time. It's, the felony conviction itself causes a cascade of what we call bad social public health determinant — the determinants of public health, social determinants of health. So what I mean by that, is that if once you have a felony conviction, it makes it a lot more difficult for you to make a living. And making a living is the core element which, you know, can keep your family healthy. And so that is why, why I voted "yes." On the other hand, you know, having retail stores that are able to sell to anybody over 21 will inevitably, I think, make it at least marginally easier for younger people younger than 21 to get their hands on marijuana. And marijuana is clearly harmful, especially to adolescents. So, you know, I'm not an evangelist for the retail store part of it. But because of my frustration over the years at the lack of criminal justice reform of marijuana laws in Arizona, I felt like, you know, this is our opportunity, so let's take it. And I think there's a lot of voters like that.

Will Humble
Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
Will Humble

MARK BRODIE: Will, Steve mentioned your role in implementing Arizona's medical marijuana program. How similar or dissimilar do you think the recreational program will be relative to what you did?

HUMBLE: So in terms of the agency's responsibilities, I think this is going to be a lot easier than implementing the medical marijuana program because the infrastructure's already in place. So many of the decisions, the regulations, the inventory control, the decisions around security, a lot of those I think are going to stay the same. There's going to be some procedural changes that the state health department needs to make in terms of the regulations and so forth. But I don't see administratively this being a real heavy lift for the department. And, and, you know, like I said, because many of the decisions have already been made. So, so in that regard, I, I don't see this as a big lift, really.

LAUREN GILGER: So I want to ask you one more question quickly about this, and then we want to touch base on coronavirus before we let you go. But as you mentioned, this is not like, you're not a giant fan of the retail side of this. Are you concerned that they're going to be some public health consequences here? Have we seen that happen in other states? Have, had those prophecies come true?

HUMBLE: Yeah, so a good question. And yeah, I do have concerns about that. You know, I looked at the data from Colorado, Washington and Oregon, which have, they went through this a few years ago, and I expected to see an increase in adolescent use in those states after the retail laws went into effect. But that actually has not happened in those states. Now, that's not to say that it's not going to happen in Arizona because it could. So, yeah, I am concerned about that. I'm also concerned about impaired driving. And, you know, just all the listeners know, you know, this did not change anything or this, when it's certified, it's not going to change anything when it comes to impaired driving. It's still against the law. But having easier access to marijuana makes me feel like that might tend to increase impaired driving, although ride-sharing has driven down impaired driving a lot in many, many states, including Arizona. At least I attribute it to that. People have easier ways to get home than they used to. So overall, impaired driving is down, but that is a concern as well.

GOLDSTEIN: Will, less than a minute to go. As Lauren said, we wanted to get a little bit of your take on coronavirus in Arizona. As of this morning, Department of Health Services reporting 814 new cases, which is lower than we've seen the last several days. What does this tell you about this second wave we've seen? How concerned are you?

HUMBLE: Well, you know, I'm concerned about the trajectory that we're on, quite honestly — and have been on for the last three or four weeks. It's just this increase, the steady increase in cases. The R0 number, which people are familiar about now, is, has been above one, meaning we are continuing to accelerate. I've been calling for some additional interventions to help slow that acceleration down, like a statewide face coverage mandate and better enforcement at bars, restaurants and nightclubs of the mitigation measures. Hopefully, with the election behind us, there will be more political will to do something along those lines, because if we do those now, we will reduce the chances we need to shut the bars, restaurants and nightclubs later on in the year.

GOLDSTEIN: Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association. Will, thanks as always for your time.

HUMBLE: My pleasure. Thanks.

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