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.