By BRITTNEY YOUNG
Whether for or against, most people have an opinion on the legalization of recreational marijuana. This fall, Arizona residents have a chance to vote on it.
Fifty percent of registered Arizona voters support legalization, 40 percent are opposed and 10 percent are undecided, according to an August poll by Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News.
Proposition 205 will be on Arizona’s Nov. 8 general election ballot. A “yes” vote will legalize possession and consumption of marijuana by those 21 years and older. A “no” vote keeps existing state laws against possession and use of marijuana in place.
If passed, individuals age 21 and older would be allowed to possess and use one ounce or less of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their home.
Passage would also establish a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to regulate cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation and sale of marijuana.
A 15 percent tax would be levied on the sale of marijuana. Proceeds would be used to fund school districts, charter schools, the Arizona Department of Health Services and localities where marijuana establishments exist.
The proposition is also designed to allow medical marijuana establishments to transition into recreational outlets.
Fines would penalize individuals caught violating any of the restrictions, such as underage use, unauthorized production and possession over the legal limits. The maximum fine would be $300 and community service.
Arguments in support
The Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control would oversee a controlled system to regulate stores, cultivation, product and licensing.
“It’s worked in Colorado,” said Carlos Alfaro, deputy campaign manager of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “It’s set up to work like the Arizona Board of Alcohol Control.”
The system would include a law enforcement unit responsible for enforcing regulations and investigating violations.
The department would require businesses to test their product and adhere to strict packaging and labeling guidelines. Supporters say the requirement would ensure safer products being used recreationally.
The 15 percent tax would be used in three major areas. The money, after expenses, would be distributed as follows:
- 40 percent to the state Department of Education for school construction, maintenance and operating costs.
- 40 percent to the state Department of Education for schools with full-day kindergarten programs.
- 20 percent to the state Department of Health Services for public education of drug and alcohol abuse.
When the Joint Legislative Budget Committee of the Arizona Legislature completed a required fiscal analysis, it estimated the initiative would generate revenue of $53.4 million in the 2019 fiscal year and $82 million in fiscal 2020.
Colorado has collected $135 million in tax revenue since legalizing marijuana in 2012, according to Alfaro.
“It created about 30,000 jobs there,” he said.
Washington state collected $83 million in tax revenues and is funding youth and substance abuse programs, according to a one-year status report released by The Drug Policy Alliance in July 2015.
The alliance said 77 percent of Washington residents think the law has had a positive effect or has had no effect on their lives.
Alfaro refutes business owner concerns that legalization of recreational marijuana will affect their existing employment policies.
“Employers absolutely can fire someone with THC in their blood,” he said.
The legislation does not change any pre-existing employment policies regarding drug use. It also does not allow individuals to use marijuana in public and does not change existing laws related to driving under the influence.
“Nobody wants people to drive while impaired,” Alfaro said.
Arguments in opposition
The Arizona Small Business Association Small opposes the marijuana initiative.
“Big government, more taxes, it protects a certain segment of business – i.e. the marijuana business – better than other businesses under the law,” interim CEO Jack W. Lunsford said.
Opponents filed a lawsuit on July 11, seeking to remove the measure from the ballot because of its ambiguous wording and challenging the funding mechanism as unconstitutional.
The lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful.
“It’s fascinating we’re going to put money that’s illegal under federal law into education,” Lunsford said.
He also predicted that little money would remain to fund education programs once expenses are deducted.
The Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control would consist of seven members, three of whom have controlling interest in the industry and four who are unaffiliated.
“They can control who can get the licenses,” Lunsford said.
No standard test for marijuana currently exists. Lunsford said tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, can remain in the blood for 30 days and it becomes impossible to tell when an individual has used it.
Despite assurances that employer policies won’t change, Lunsford said small business owners are nervous that employees will sue if they are fired for being under the influence of marijuana while on the job.
“It is just bad legislation,” Lunsford said.
Voter registration ends Oct. 10
Arizona residents who want a say in the November election must register to vote by Oct. 10.
Voter registration drives are underway throughout Tucson, including on Pima Community College campuses.
One example: Mi Familia Vota will register voters on Sept. 29, Oct. 4, Oct. 5 and Oct 10 at Downtown Campus in the atrium of Room CC-115 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
For online registration information, visit azsos.gov/elections/voting-election.