With more than a million and a half residents, the City of Phoenix mayoral race is bigger than any two congressional districts combined. Once the City started into an effort to tax local MMJ patients, our office was flooded w requests to add the PHX Mayoral race to our voters’ guide. Here you go.
Researcher, Mike Robinette and I launched into the project with a short turn-around time: one work week. Of course, it took MUCH longer than that. Since the candidates were rushed, we did two rounds of emails and a personal call to their campaigns. Three of the four campaigns responded within the first day by phone and in deed enjoyed long complex conversations, as of the official deadline however, only one campaign had replied w a written response to our two question survey. Another round of texts, emails and phone calls ensued. I tracked down two of the candidates at public events. And, in the end only 3 of 4 responded. But in this case, the details we learned along the way were more informative than the carefully crafted replies below.
FULL DISCLOSURE Though the general election guide involved dozens of people I have known or met personally, the PHX mayoral election includes people I have worked with on political or cannabis issues over the years.
Kate Gallego and her husband, Congressman Ruben Gallego, were early mentors for my wife and I when we were candidates. We were delegates together at the 2012 DNC and socialized with them quite a bit in Charlotte six years ago. As a state legislator, Ruben Gallego had been one of the first to work with me on cannabis reform and introduced Arizona’s first legislative bill to create a taxed and regulated adult use market in 2014. While we are not close enough to be called friends, I have certainly personally supported the congressman’s work in general and especially seen him as a true ally for cannabis consumers, both at the statehouse and in Congress. Rep. Gallego is one of my go-to contacts on The Hill when I am trying to advance federal reform. He met w me in July in DC during the national NORML Conference. All that said, Congressman Gallego is not Councilwoman Gallego and we have tried to rate Ms. Gallego on her own record and public statements on the issue.
Nick Sarwark, on the other hand, was unfamiliar to me until this election season, but he is the guy doing his best to use his campaign to highlight issues in cannabis in general and especially to work on PHX’s approaches to regulating the industry. We have met several times at cannabis related political events, discussed his cannabis policies at length, and appreciated his efforts during the PHX cannabis tax crisis. His campaign not only replied to our survey but also provided supplemental documents (linked below).
Scoring The candidate’s scores are based on their track record as a public official or their public statements on cannabis and their answers to two questions. (1. What is your position on cannabis? & 2. What is your position regarding the proposed Phoenix cannabis tax?) Their campaign websites are linked to the first use of their name in each entry. High score are not endorsements. There are so many other policy positions that should be considered when picking an elected official. Our scores are based on whether they’re aiming for an ideal position on cannabis reform. When it comes to the PHX mayor’s ideal positions, they would include, but not be limited to:
- Adopting a lowest police priority ordinance to stop harassing cannabis consumers, especially medical card patients.
- Undoing some of the restrictive zoning PHX has enacted over the past several years.
- Creating a training program for city officials to educate them about the realities of medical cannabis and roll back some of the institutional stigmatization patients and consumers suffer.
- NEVER considering a 17% tax on sick people’s medication, not at a dispensary, not at a pharmacy.
It is important to keep in mind that neither of the former city council members, Gallego or Valenzuela, were on the board when Mayor Thelda Williams introduced the ill-fated tax.
Kate Gallego-Democrat: Said to be the odds-on favorite in a tight race, Gallego has an impressive record as a power politician in her own right, never mind, her congressman husband. A member of the Democratic National Committee and a PHX city council member since 2013, Kate has been a powerful force in party and city politics much of this century. Unlike Rep. Gallego, Council woman Gallego has not made many public statements on cannabis but has expressed she supports his work. Her campaign press secretary provided these answers to our survey.
- What is your position on cannabis? I have seen the benefits that medical marijuana provides to patients who could not find relief elsewhere. I want patients to be able to access treatment in Phoenix. Cities should provide rules about where dispensaries’ grow, and [other] facilities are located, just as cities do for drugstores. I believe in sentencing reform — possessing a small amount of marijuana should not put someone in jail for longer than many domestic violence crimes.
- What is your position regarding the proposed Phoenix cannabis tax? The Phoenix City Council’s action to not advance an unfair tax or fee structure on cannabis businesses and patients was the right decision. As Mayor of Phoenix, I will work with business owners and patient advocates to address this issue in an open process. If the voters choose to legalize adult use, the city needs to be at the table as revenues are discussed.
Moses Sanchez-Republican: Despite having an inspiring backstory and running as a Republican in the red state of AZ, Sanchez is trailing 3rd in the polls. He took a phone call on the very first day of our survey and spoke at length about the importance of recognizing medical marijuana as a legitimate medicine and the need to change the city’s approach to cannabis even though he does not favor full-legalization. Sanchez also made an interesting observation, noting that the same firemen who back Valenzuela so much they’re the inspiration for his uniquely designed campaign signs, those same firemen are the folks behind the proposed 17% tax. To Sanchez’s point, the firemen figured prominently in the city’s presentation justifying the tax before it was brought up and one of the presenters on the tax was the head of the fireman’s union. “Mark my words,” Sanchez said, agreeing to be quoted, “If Valenzuela gets elected, you will see that tax come back around, just watch.”
- What is your position on cannabis? I am supportive of medical marijuana, especially for veterans who suffer from PTSD.
- What is your position regarding the proposed Phoenix cannabis tax? Opposed.
Nick Sarwark-Libertarian: In addition to this mayoral run, Sarwark is also the chair of the national Libertarian Party, and a defense attorney who moved to PHX from the cannabis kingdom of Colorado. Of the four candidates, Sarwark has the greatest involvement in cannabis reform but also the lowest polling. As noted above, Sarwark has been putting in his time on cannabis reform at the city level, including challenging the previous admin at the city’s board of adjustments, a majority of whom have since been sacked after questions surfaced on their record on granting variances to cannabis businesses among other discrepancies. Sarwark’s campaign sent us statements on both the recently city tax (Sarwark Cannabis Tax PDF) and concerns about the ways the city treat cannabis operations in general (Sarwark Dispensary Owners and Managers PDF). This guy’s extra effort earns him extra points.
- What is your position on cannabis? I support the unrestricted use of cannabis as medication and for adult recreation. However, I would prefer to see separate and distinct markets between medicinal use and recreational sales. That way patients can get the focused and individualized care they need. As mayor, I will refocus our law enforcement officers and make cannabis possession the lowest police priority. This will free up officers to respond faster to emergency calls for service, redevelop trust within the community, and save the taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
- What is your position regarding the proposed Phoenix cannabis tax? Filling a budget gap, caused by the City Council’s failure to prioritize spending, off the medication of suffering Phoenicians is cruel and lazy. Medical dispensaries should be zoned and taxed like any other pharmacy in Phoenix. As Mayor, I will continue to fight this tax, or any tax like it.
Daniel Valenzuela-Democrat: There has been no candidate, in any race that we worked harder to survey than Daniel Valenzuela. And nobody has worked harder at avoiding going on record as to their position on cannabis in general, or on whether or not they supported a 17% tax on PHX-area MMJ patients. Repeated calls, texts, emails to him and to his campaign. A face to face in public at a big deal political event. Each of those queries got great reassurances that an answer was on the way. No answers ever came. This became even more concerning when we shared the Sanchez rumor with his campaign that Valenzuela (rumored to be Gallego’s closest challenger and a fireman’s union member himself) was being accused of being behind the cannabis tax. Still no replies. With only two questions to answer and no answers given, the only grade possible is—