Timothy La Sota
Arizona Capitol Times, Guest Column
Proposition 207, The Smart and Safe Arizona Act, is a responsible marijuana legalization plan that makes sense to this Arizona conservative.
I am a lifelong Republican, a former prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, and former general counsel for the Arizona Republican Party. As marijuana legalization becomes more and more inevitable, we have an opportunity to get legalization right.
Prop. 207 legalizes marijuana under careful safeguards, and at the same time will increase tax revenues, and generate good paying jobs.
Prop. 207 also provides for stronger penalties for those who use marijuana and drive impaired. The measure also ensures that marijuana is not marketed to children, that edibles are not made to resemble children’s candy, and that levels of THC in edibles are limited to prevent someone from ingesting too much. There’s also a provision that prohibits smoking marijuana in public places.
These are common sense provisions that make sense.
Prop. 207 comes along at the right time. As the pandemic reduces revenues and increases costs for government, this measure will generate $300 million a year in additional tax revenues.
Money would be targeted toward public safety, community colleges, substance abuse treatment, mental health programs, road and freeway construction, just to name a few. And countess new jobs would be created at a time when they are needed.
As a conservative, I am not a fan of taxes. Prop. 207 is essentially a voluntary tax that could help prevent increases in so-called “involuntary” on income and property.
None of the arguments against marijuana can withstand any serious examination.
The organized opposition to marijuana is generally led by people who have spent their professional life in government. One of the first things they say is that people don’t really go to jail for simple possession. This begs the question of why we need harsh criminal penalties for marijuana possession if they are not used anyway. But even worse, this claim by the critics of marijuana is clearly false.
As a prosecutor, I saw plenty of people prosecuted harshly for these types of offenses. And recently, Arizonan Rodney Jones spent over two years in prison for possession of 0.05 of an ounce of hashish, even though he had a valid medical marijuana card, bought the product from a state-licensed dispensary, and was a non-repetitive “offender”.
So much for the argument that non-violent, non-repeat possessors of marijuana for personal use don’t go to prison. And in Mr. Jones’ case, he was not an “offender” at all — he was legally entitled to possess the marijuana, as the Arizona Supreme Court ruled unanimously in overturning his conviction.
It is no coincidence that one of the most high profile opponents of Proposition 207, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, prosecuted Mr. Jones. Preventing this perversion of justice, perpetrated by the government, is reason enough to vote for Prop. 207. The Supreme Court ruling in favor of Mr. Jones belatedly put an end to an embarrassing episode for Arizona, and I personally never want to see anything like that happen again. Besides, with rising violent crime, law enforcement has better things to do than to prosecute non-violent marijuana users.
Marijuana opponents also regularly trot out “the children” as a reason to vote no. This is largely an appeal to emotion rather than a real argument. As a father of three myself, marijuana is very low on my list of concerns. A much more serious concern are opioids, which are far easier to obtain than marijuana. In fact, it is extraordinarily difficult for a minor to secure marijuana from a legal dispensary. And Prop. 207 contains tough packing and warning label requirements.
Arguments that marijuana would be a problem in the workforce don’t hold any water either. Under Prop. 207, employers and property owners can ban marijuana use at their workplaces or on their property. Drug tests would still be permitted allowing employers to make sure their employees are not impaired, just as such tests are used today for marijuana and other drugs, including alcohol.
Prop. 207 effectively tackles the challenge of implementing legalization in a responsible manner. Legalization is coming one way or another. We have an opportunity to get it right, to end injustices that result from the law’s treatment of simple possession of any amount of marijuana as a felony, and to make sure children are protected and tax dollars are spent wisely. If we miss this opportunity, then more radical elements may push legalization without important safeguards. Or worse yet, politicians and bureaucrats may attempt legalization without consulting voters.
Please vote yes on Prop. 207.
Tim La Sota is an attorney who practices in Phoenix.