When Mikel Weisser felt “pushed out” of his career as an eighth-grade social studies instructor because of his views on cannabis, he knew he had to act as a political advocate for legalization — not just in his state but across the country.
Now, nearly seven years later, Weisser continues his mission in political activism and education as the executive director of Arizona’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“I’ve spent most of this decade fighting for legalization, and when I came out in favor of marijuana, I was forced to leave my field,” he says.
Weisser is one of four speakers set to take the stage at a panel discussion covering full marijuana legalization. The panel, which is on Aug. 31, is part of HOCO Fest — a music, arts and culture festival hosted by the historic Hotel Congress in Tucson, Arizona — and will feature a collection of marijuana industry professionals.
The goal? To help educate both supporters and adversaries of cannabis about what role it plays socially and politically.
“I want to help make pot more accepted locally,” says Matt Baquet, HOCO Fest director and panel organizer. “I want people to hear and see that there are responsible business people and people within legislation who are doing this for the right reasons and not just for money … Ultimately, I want it to be painted in a positive light. I think that having responsible conversations is the right way to do it.”
As a longtime advocate of recreational marijuana use, Baquet said he wanted to include a variety of voices who work within the industry to outline the potential effects of legalization.
It’s the first time that HOCO Fest will feature cannabis industry leaders and dedicate a section of its packed schedule for cannabis education, Baquet said. However, with a legalization initiative hitting the Arizona ballot for the second time next fall, Baquet said it’s only fitting to have the festival foster a space for social and political discourse about what was once considered a controversial topic.
“I think the more we can normalize pot; the better society can be,” Baquet said. “I think that it’s just a super exciting industry and it’s super exciting for the state to finally be able to jump into it full force … I was really bummed that we couldn’t get it legalized in the last election because I think it could’ve done a lot for our state.”
“There’s been a lot of misinformation that came from the ‘no’ voters,” Weisser said. “In 2016, that was a major problem and it was one of the contributing factors to the outcome of the election.”
For John Hartsell, the panel gives industry businessmen and women a chance to highlight financial benefits recreational legalization can bring. As the owner of DIZPOT, an Arizona-based marijuana packaging and branding company, and fellow panelist, Hartsell said the panel will give him the chance to outline some of the benefits he foresees in legalization.
“I hope anybody who’s on the fence can learn and learn that this will be a great benefit to Arizona’s schools, to infrastructure regarding highways and infrastructure regarding fire and police who keep our community safe,” he said.
HOCO Fest will also host a panel all about the benefits of cannabidiol, better known as CBD, following the legalization panel.
“The second panel is meant to be a little more lighthearted,” Baquet said. “I think that it’s meant to talk about the more positive aspects of cannabis, the medical benefits, the fun ways that you can use it and get that message out.”
Kim Williams, co-owner of Tumbleweeds Health Center in Tucson, will take the stage alongside two other CBD industry professionals to educate attendees about the uses of CBD, particularly when it comes to common questions folks can’t ask anywhere else.
“One of the big challenges we face right now is people calling and asking us how it’s made and who made it, things they would never ask their pharmacist, probably because it’s not under Food and Drug Administration regulation,” she said. “The only challenge we really have is education, or the lack thereof.”
As co-owner of a cannabis education outreach and certification center, Williams said she wants to clear up any misconceptions or questions people might have about CBD.
“We are going to put a lot of people to ease who may be afraid of the plant itself about the high, intoxication or anything like that,” she said. “We’ll put those questions to rest.”