Arizona’s road to cannabis legalization has been a long and overlooked journey littered with names on both sides of the cause. As in most issues of great debate, the most prominent of names belong to some of the loudest of voices—rather than the most righteous.
Sherriff Joe Arpaio, and Attorneys Sheila Polk and Bill Montgomery are atop the list of old school names and voices pushing the old school stereotypes and fear mongering. But now it’s 2016, and there’s a new initiative on the ballot and a fresh voice leading the charge. On November 8, citizens of Arizona will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 205, Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. Helping lead the way for this new generation is Carlos Alfaro, Arizona Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). Just 26-years-old, Carlos found his calling in political activism early, believing in the basic necessity of defending personal rights.
DOPE Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Carlos recently, and go over the work he’s done on Prop 205, how the vote could swing and what the future holds for himself and cannabis in Arizona and beyond.
DOPE Magazine: How Did Your Political Activism Start?
Carlos Alfaro (CA): My interest in philosophy actually got me into politics about five years ago.
Reading and studying some economics on the side, I saw the importance in having a government that is fiscally conservative and leaves people alone to live their lives as they see fit—less government regulation. I consider myself a libertarian.
My work at MPP started, more than anything, from me seeing the injustice in putting someone in a cage for consuming marijuana—which is less harmful than alcohol. How can this be a “free country” if it does that?
DOPE: You’re a young participant in a battle that’s been going on for decades. Do you feel your age has held you back or given you a platform to voice your opinion?
CA: I think the latter. This campaign has given me a platform to speak about these issues. I think most marijuana smokers are regular people—they don’t represent this stigma of hippies or burnouts that prohibitionists created. So when people see me or any of the people on our campaign, they get a sense of, ‘Ok, this guy is a professional.’ It’s given people encouragement to come out and stand up for this very important issue.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is not about the taxes or how much money we can make. It’s about defeating the stigma of what a marijuana smoker looks like. There are CEOs and Presidents that consume marijuana, productive people who work hard every single day that like to go home, relax and enjoy some marijuana. And that shouldn’t be a crime, that’s as ridiculous and wrong as punishing someone for drinking a beer or cocktail with dinner.
DOPE: MPP was initially facing opposition from another piece of legislation; do you think the division this opposition created will affect the overall success of prop 205?
CA: I actually see this everywhere I go in politics. Even in conservative and democratic circles, there are always going to be people who have a strong philosophical principle or something that they hold on to as “nonnegotiable” that makes them more radical.
I don’t know much about the radical side in the marijuana community, but the people that introduced the other initiative stood on the philosophy that if they didn’t get exactly what they wanted, they would attack our campaign. Throwing a tantrum is not good politics, worse yet, it hurts legalization.
Thankfully, our campaign is as strong as ever and growing every day! We have people from all walks of life and professions that are working together to see Prop 205 pass and repeal prohibition.
DOPE: In your honest opinion, do you think Proposition 205 will pass?
CA: Well I’m looking at polls every week; I’m looking at people’s comments and messages about the campaign, and it looks very bright. People are tired of prohibition. Also, because it’s a presidential campaign year and that drives voter turnout. Young people are going to come out in large numbers, and I’m really excited to see the Latino vote grow. This is not a partisan issue. I think this is going to be a big election year for us across the country.
This is the right time for our initiative. Legalization is less controversial than in the past; we’ve had decades of prohibition and propaganda, and now we have better information to fight that off and win.
DOPE: We’ve recently heard stories of a lot of anti-cannabis propaganda being thrown up around AZ. Have you noticed this increase?
CA: Yes, definitely. There is an all-out prohibitionist campaign out there—it’s like they came straight from the 1930s! Basically, they’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to put out TV ads, radio ads and billboards that mislead people and promote fear. They also try to really confuse the conversation about marijuana. It’s like they’ve never seen it in real life before.
What they are trying to do is what they did in the 1930s to make it illegal—make people fearful, make people think they need a nanny or a watcher to arrest the bad guy so that the issues go away. Dangerous philosophy, and unsuccessful for almost 80 years now.
At the end of the day, their arguments will fail. Our state has people going to jail for nonviolent marijuana offenses and billions of tax-payer dollars going into this drug war that isn’t working. It is clear that it’s underground, black market crime that’s being fueled by this policy.
In my opinion, the biggest unintended consequence of the war on marijuana is the funding of drug cartels and illegal drug dealers. They have billions of dollars at their disposal because they have a monopoly all to themselves, and prohibition gave them this monopoly.
The people and campaigns that promote marijuana prohibition through scare tactics are defending those cartels, and those criminals within our communities.
DOPE: If 205 were to pass, do you think this is where Arizona would see the greatest impact?
CA: Definitely, it’s like what happened with alcohol prohibition. When we make marijuana illegal, we guarantee that its sale will be uncontrolled and unregulated.
In this underground market, there’s no Better Business Bureau or Consumer Health Boards, there’s no regulation. So the people who get to sell this stuff are those that are willing to be criminals.
This initiative—Prop 205, takes marijuana away from them and puts it into a legal market with legitimate business. So now people have to go get a license; they have to make sure they are growing it safely for the consumer; they have a financial incentive to make sure that they are not selling to minors. All of that are components of how we sell legal products in a civilized society.
Right now, about half of all American citizens admit to having used cannabis at least once in their lifetime, but the laws don’t reflect that—they’re making people criminals instead. It doesn’t make sense.
DOPE: Do you think Arizona could provide a model for other states that face similar climates with legalization?
CA: Definitely—I think Arizona will begin a domino effect. Some people think of Arizona as being a conservative-minded state, a state that wouldn’t allow these kinds of laws. Historically though, Arizona has approved marijuana and voters have approved its regulation. Arizona was one of the first states to allow regulated marijuana for medical use.
Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or Libertarian, we can all come together on sensible reform and say, ‘Well we can tax it and regulate it like alcohol.’ Nobody would want to go back to alcohol prohibition, it’s just as ridiculous as arresting somebody for marijuana.
DOPE: Have you seen a positive evolution in relations with law enforcement, or the typical Joe Arpaio stance of hating cannabis?
CA: We’ve actually seen the opposite. The Bill Montgomerys and Sheila Polks of the world are bad examples because they’re outrageous. Most cops and police officers—even DEA agents that focus only on marijuana—view this as a ridiculous law, a law that is hurting our society and our youth.
A good example of this is two former-DEA agents that joined our campaign—one of them was even doing border patrol work on marijuana—they see it as a waste of their time arresting nonviolent marijuana offenders, as well as a waste of tax payers’ money.
DOPE: Regardless of the success of Prop 205, what is your hope for your future with MPP on a state and national level?
CA: I would say just continuing to ensure that the marijuana consumer and industry is protected here—it’s a very new industry with lots of enemies. And all across the country there are people like Sheila Pork, like Bill Montgomery; people that want to keep arresting people for consuming marijuana and shut down businesses. The foes of liberty.
So I’ll go where I’m needed, but I think the theme of my work has been consistent the last five years and I think it will continue—to keep passing initiatives and joining campaigns that promote personal liberty and free markets.
Also published on Medium.