During the 2014 election season LD9 Rep. Ethan Orr caused a minor media stir when the Freshman Republican said he would “push” for marijuana legalization if re-elected to the Arizona Legislature (which didn’t happen). Orr suggested marijuana legalization as a way the state to make money through taxation and fees, since Arizona faces ongoing budget problems.
Fast forward to this election season, and as many as six cannabis-related citizens’ initiatives are collecting signatures to get on the 2016 ballot. The initiative backed by the Marijuana Policy Project includes a 15% sales tax on recreational marijuana; it could raise as much as $40 million for public education and public health. (Colorado’s legalization initiative called for a 25% tax on marijuana; the state has earmarked $40 million of the tax revenue for schools, according to the Arizona Republic.)
Although the money-making aspect of legalization is enticing to some, there are strong humanitarian reasons for legalization of marijuana. Here are my top five reasons for marijuana legalization and a video explaining the cannabis-related initiatives that could be on the 2016 ballot.
5- End Over-Policing of Personal Marijuana Use. Over-policing of marijuana possession is a multi-million-dollar nationwide problem. The US spends $51 billion per year on the failed War on Drugs. With that, law enforcement arrested 1.55 million Americans in 2012 for non-violent drug use. Of that, 48% (749,825) were arrested for marijuana violations, and 88% of those people (658,231) were arrested for simple possession.
(This could be your old hippie grandpa, your college student son, or the cancer patient down the street if you live in a state without medical marijuana. These are not gangbangers.) In 2012, Arizona spent $12 million in federal/state funds to arrest and prosecute thousands of citizens– mostly non-violent, non-gang marijuana users who were charged with possession of marijuana and/or paraphernalia.
4- Spend Federal Money on Prevention and Addiction Treatment, Not Arrests and Prosecutions. According the the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission’s 2012 Enhanced Drug and Gang Enforcement (EDGE) Report (PDF), Arizona received approximately $10 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (bailout!) and the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant in 2012 and matched it with $2.2 million in state funds. Although the federal website says that the funds can be used for a “broad range of activities to prevent and control crime and improve the criminal justice system,” Arizona has chosen to use its grant money to crack down on its citizens. The $12 million was divided up between 15 county programs and one statewide program. Maricopa County received $3.38 million, and Tucson received $2 million. (Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, an outspoken opponent of medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, received over half a million.)
3- Improve the Health of Citizens. Medical marijuana benefits 1000s of people, but Arizona’s card system ensures that only people with money and access to a dispensing doctor can buy marijuana legally. Other people who want to use marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes must buy it on the street, thus feeding the illegal drug trade. New research on the medical uses of marijuana are being released every day. In October 2014, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a study that said states with medical cannabis had a 25% lower overdose mortality rate from opioid prescription drug overdose when compared with states where marijuana is illegal. In June 2015, JAMA released another study outlining the medical uses of marijuana. We need more research not more arrests. It is absurd that research shows medical uses for marijuana, but the government still classifies it as one of the most dangerous drugs– Schedule 1– when it should be classified as a medicinal plant.
2- Legal Pot and Hemp Are Cash Crops. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was sold to the American and Mexican people as a good idea. Free flow of commerce back and forth between our countries– what could go wrong? Decades later we know that NAFTA has played a major role in the ballooning migrant population crossing into the US illegally because Mexican farmers couldn’t compete under NAFTA. NAFTA also hurt US workers because maquiladoras popped up along the border, leading to the export of American jobs. Legal pot and hemp would give both Mexican and Arizonan farmers new profitable crops. Add in the skills of plant and water scientists at the University of Arizona, and we could develop low-water-use versions of these plants– particularly hemp.
1- End the Failed War on Drugs. Murder and rape are an integral part of the drug trade. Innocent people on both sides of the Mexican border have been killed or pressed into service for the drug cartels. Legalization of marijuana would put a huge dent in the illegal drug trade that comes across the border just a few miles south of Tucson. It would also help alleviate some of the violence and suffering in Mexico and Arizona.
Pamela, isn’t it possible to have more than just one good reason to make marijuana legal? My personal thinking is that the more reasons we can can present to make legalization attractive the better chance we have of getting the initiative passed.
My initial fear with using funds generated by taxing recreational marijuana sales for education is that it won’t happen. Being born in Arizona and now collecting Social Security I remember when the Arizona Lottery was created and how that was supposed to help fund Education. That didn’t last long long before lawmakers had ideas of their own. Truth is AZ lawmakers do not wish to finance Education and it is slowly getting to the point that sensible people can see the destruction that is taking place. It goes way beyond being the butt of jokes about how much it just sucks to be in a social economic class earning under six digits in this state. Not just the people are catching on but corporations as well, at least those that need a work force with more than just basic skills at best. Outside of that I think it would be great, other states are proving that now. A savings in taxpayer dollars is being realized in not having to fight this particular component of the (failed) WAR on drugs. This is an issue that is sure to be around for a while, thanks for covering it.
Yes, the Legislators routinely would deny the wishes of the people. Arizona actually passed medical marijuana twice, and the Legislature overruled the initiatives. Eventually, we got smart and had an initiative that prohibits them from denying the validity of citizens’ initiatives. That is how medical MJ and other initiatives passed and stuck. That also is why the schools are suing to get the money owed to them.
Legislators like to swipe the funds from programs they don’t like. This way they have plenty of money for sweetheart deals for their friends or themselves (like the fortune Yarborough has made on charter schools) and plenty of money for unaffordable corporate tax cuts.