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Arizona follows in Colorado’s footsteps and moves toward legalization in 2014

Elliot Adams

It seems that thanks to Colorado’s recent legalization of marijuana, for other states across the country this same issue is turning into a political possibility.

The start of 2014 brought the legal sale of marijuana to the state of Colorado after voters passed a law in November stating that the drug could be bought and sold for recreational usage by those ages 21 and over.

The law also included certain restrictions such as Colorado residents can possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to five plants whereas tourists may only buy a quarter of an ounce and cannot transport their purchases over state lines.

In the first week alone of the legal recreational marijuana law, Colorado’s dispensaries reported sales of roughly $5 million with a projected $600 million in annual sales.

This overwhelming retail response is largely due to the drug holding a 25 percent tax, which includes a 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent sales tax.

States across the country, including Alaska, California, Oregon, and Arizona, are observing Colorado’s new law and modeling their own legal alterations after its success or failure.

For Arizona’s journey towards legalization, the current law being drafted keeps the 21 and over age limit but also includes the opportunity for taxes received from the drug sales to be funded back into the state through public education and drug and alcohol treatment programs.

It is also estimated that if all 50 states were to legalize recreational sales of marijuana, the U.S. could generate as much as $9 billion a year in tax revenue.

However, according to Brian Dille, a political science professor at MCC, tax revenue alone isn’t enough to create significant economic change for Arizona and the law could even pose hidden costs for the state.

“Just proceeds from point of sale have no factor in costs downstream as far as addiction treatment and loss productivity,” Dille said. “The question of legalizing drugs has costs that aren’t always factored in public support and because the drugs are illegal we can’t really determine the ultimate cost to society.  We just don’t know how it can turn out.”

According to a poll by the Behavior Research Center, 56 percent of Arizonans support the idea of legalizing marijuana, which is 4 percent higher than the national percentage of supporters.

Dylan Eichenbauer, a student at MCC, said he supports marijuana legalization and sees it as a future possibility for Arizona.

“So far, it’s sort of been like prohibition so people are doing it anyway, even though it is illegal,” Eichenbauer said. “This is causing more crime than it should be stopping.”

Safer Arizona, a local organization dedicated to getting the issue of marijuana legalization on the 2014 ballot, are hoping that overwhelming support will turn into votes.

“It’s all about ownership of your body,” said Robert Clark, the Chairman for Safer Arizona. “When your government starts telling you what you can and can’t do, they’re claiming ownership of you. No one has the right to tell me how to take care of myself.”

Clark, who became involved in the legalization organization after a personal struggle with Arizona’s tight medical marijuana laws, said that decriminalizing marijuana could greatly benefit the state.

“If marijuana is legally regulated, the drug will be cleaner, safer, and out of the hands of street drug dealers who don’t care how old your kids are as long as they’re buying,” Clark said. “It would also free up law enforcement resources so they’re not spending time with low-level, nonviolent offenders and can do real work on crimes where there is actually a victim. The only victims of marijuana usage are those being arrested for possessing a natural, non-harmful plant.”

Safer Arizona is currently petitioning to amend the Arizona constitution to allow for legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana use and need 300,000 voter signatures in order to qualify for the November 2014 ballot. 

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These are archived stories from Mesa Legend editions before Fall 2018. See article for corresponding author.

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