It is time to legalize marijuana in Arizona
Arizona Daily Star Editorial Board | Oct 11, 2020
The following column is the opinion of the Arizona Daily Star Editorial Board.
America has always had a complicated relationship with marijuana. Legally, the consequences for use and possession have been harsh, with severity of sentence varying on jurisdiction and state.
Cities and other small localities have occasionally decriminalized small amounts or enacted policies of benign neglect toward marijuana users. But nationally, federal prohibition has reigned supreme for decades.
The results have been disastrous, especially for people of color and poor communities. Here in Arizona, a Black person is three times as likely as a white person to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the ACLU.
Arizonans can take change into their own hands and join six other Western states and 11 nationally by rejecting prohibition and its accompanying burdens. While a 2016 voter initiative failed, Proposition 207 is better, both policywise and for potential consumers.
Prop. 207 would make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, with added guidelines for quantities of marijuana concentrates and derivatives, like brownies or syrups. Additionally, adults could also grow up to six plants in their home, with a max of 12 plants for a residence containing two or more persons.
If passed, Prop. 207 would direct the Arizona Department of Health Services to set rules and be the regulatory agency responsible for retail marijuana sales. Those rules would be in place for a mandated June 1, 2021, retail date. All marijuana products would be subject to applicable city and state taxes, as well as a 16% excise tax.
According to a fiscal analysis by the Arizona Legislature, the tax, along with licensing and fees, is expected to raise $166 million once the program is fully established in the next few years.
That money would go first to helping pay and fund the state agencies and contract personnel needed to make this new law work.
Then, anything left over for the excise tax and licensing fees would go to set up a fund, called the Smart and Safe Arizona Fund, which would be distributed like this: 33% to community college districts, 31.4% to local police and fire departments and 25.4 % to the Highway User Revenue Fund.
The remaining monies would be split among the state attorney general or local jurisdictions to help enforce the initiative, and a new “Justice Reinvestment Fund” administered by AZDHS and local health departments.
Perhaps the biggest impact of Prop. 207 would come in how marijuana offenses are handled. The initiative establishes that anyone of legal age found to possess between 1 and 2.5 ounces of marijuana would be charged with a misdemeanor felony offense instead of a felony. There are also additional enforcement provisions for minors.
Most importantly, the proposition opens a potential pathway to hope for those charged in the past for certain marijuana-related offenses by allowing a petition of expungement of their criminal records.
For Arizonans concerned about the prevalence of marijuana on the streets and in schools, a study out of Washington from the publication Preventative Medicine found that usage rate of younger teens in the state actually decreased, while the rate for older teens stayed nearly the same.
Prop. 207 also takes a preemptive approach to the concern, prohibiting the sale of common candy and gummy edibles that look like children’s vitamins or gummy bears.
Employers can also continue to insist on keeping their workplaces drug free by requiring drug tests as a barrier for employment, and Prop. 207 does not allow for use of marijuana in public spaces or as an excuse for beating a DUI. In other words, a yes vote won’t portend the fall of civilization.
Opponents of 207 say normalizing marijuana sends a terrible message to young people, ignores the damage the drug can do to developing brains and won’t be the tax revenue bonanza promised.
There are also concerns about the influence of industry insiders — the group leading the campaign for Prop. 207, Smart and Safe Arizona, is comprised of individuals connected to medical marijuana dispensaries already operating in the state — and the fact that enacted initiatives are nearly impossible to change legislatively.
These concerns do not outweigh the already stated positives, or the possible second order effects: Law enforcement, free of having to spend time policing small time, low-level marijuana crime, can focus on more pressing issues.
The Arizona Daily Star suggests Southern Arizonans vote “yes” on Prop. 207.