Arizona’s hopes of legalising cannabis for recreational use have been dealt a severe blow with the appointment of one the USA’s most fervent anti-weed crusaders to the state’s Supreme Court.
Bill Montgomery was sworn in last week amid concerns for impartiality over his unashamed bias over marijuana prosecutions.
The former Gulf War tank commander has been a lifelong opponent of cannabis since seeing his own father jailed for smuggling the drug across the Texas border.
Many believe the Maricopa County Attorney’s private war on marijuana is driven by the toxic relationship between him and his late father – a former truck driver who was also once shot during an argument over a woman before leaving the family home.
His hard line on drugs is almost as legendary as it is unforgiving. As is his vociferous support for the death penalty.
“As long as there are horrific murders reflecting the worst of crimes, there will be a role for the death penalty as a just and proportionate punishment,” he recently wrote.
In France’s Le Monde newspaper, he also reportedly described modern executions as being “too antiseptic” to deliver satisfaction to the justice system and victims of crime.
“It would be good to return to earlier methods like the gas chamber or electric chair,” he said.
“Personally, I would prefer the firing squad.”
The 52-year-old Republican is even tough on medical marijuana use, and has been known to attempt to prosecute people for narcotics violations over the use of infused candies.
Medicinal cannabis is, of course, legal under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, and there is little or no danger of that changing. There is, however, a great sense among anti-prohibition lobbyists that Montgomery’s extraordinary influence could derail any prospects of Arizona pushing through legalisation for the recreational use of marijuana.
As well as his no-nonsense approach, Montgomery has a reputation for eliminating items from the political agenda on a technicality – something a potential marijuana bill would offer him ample opportunity for.
His skills as a hardline legislator were highlighted by Professor Paul Bender, dean emeritus at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
“If there’s a recreational marijuana initiative, and someone challenges it, Montgomery’s vote would be an important one in keeping it off the ballot,” he explained.
“Arizona gives an enormous amount of legislative power to the people, and the Legislature hates that, so they keep passing legislation to make it harder and harder to put things on the ballot.”
Such a ballot was attempted three years ago, but narrowly failed to cross the line. Although another effort to legalise recreational cannabis would have more support given the current climate of widespread acceptance and the legal moves by neighbouring states, it could potentially hit a wall in the shape of Bill Montgomery.
Any hope for legislation in the same vein as states like Colorado and California now rest with the very real possibility of full legalisation being granted at federal level as a by-product of next year’s presidential election.
It is widely believed Donald Trump will table legislation for nationwide marijuana decriminalisation in line with almost every other candidate in the race for the White House.