AZ: Campaigns For And Against Legal Marijuana Speak Out In Yuma

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Leaders of the campaigns for and against the statewide proposition to legalize recreational marijuana use in Arizona appeared at a Yuma forum Tuesday to make their cases to an audience of about 30.

The faceoff was sponsored by the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce, which has found itself split on the question of Proposition 205, Executive Director John Courtis said at the beginning of the two-hour session, though the statewide Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a major funder of the campaign against it.

“The Arizona Chamber executives want to make sure every chamber is unique to itself. Flagstaff thinks one way, Prescott thinks another way. And we want to make sure Yuma is represented correctly, too.”

According to the submitted ballot summary, a “yes” vote on Proposition 205 is in favor of:

• Allowing adults age 21 and over to possess and privately consume and grow limited amounts of marijuana

• Establishing a 15 percent tax on the drug’s sales to go toward public health and education

• Creating a licensed system of businesses authorized to grow and sell marijuana

• Establishing a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Controls to oversee this system

• Authorizing local governments to regulate and limit marijuana businesses

The measure is currently expected to be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, but there is a court challenge from opponents appealing lower court decisions to the state Supreme Court, alleging the summary doesn’t adequately inform voters about the law’s effects.

Representatives from each side were given an hour to discuss their perspective. Adam Kinsey, manager of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol which backs the measure, said the limits on possession contained in the proposed law by each person is 1 ounce or six marijuana plants, with 12 plants permitted for a two-adult household.

Following the licensing process, most provisions would come into effect in 2018 and 2019, he said. Additional provisions, including the ability to consume marijuana at a dispensary like you can now drink alcohol at a bar, would come in 2021. As a voter-approved law, any changes enacted by the Legislature must be approved by a supermajority.

Kinsey said a state Joint Budget Legislative Committee report estimated the excise tax and licensing fees included in the law would raise $53.4 million in fiscal 2019 and $82 million in 2020, with about $30 million and $54 million of that going to K-12 education, respectively. State and local sales tax would generate another $22 million in 2019 and $43 million in 2020.

He quoted liberally from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposed the state’s 2012 voter-approved law authorizing recreational marijuana use, the first in the nation.

Kinsey said Hickenlooper has since said, “We were worried about a spike in the usage among kids, we were worried about a spike in driving while high, we were worried about edibles, but we haven’t seen any of those – at least in a significant fashion – any of those fears materialize.”

Kinsey said the current illegal transport and sale of marijuana for recreational use will persist if voters don’t move to legalize it: “It’s a billion-dollar criminal enterprise right now. It’s a billion-dollar black market right now. It’s not going to go away, this is an acknowledgement that it is there and deciding how to handle it.”

He said medical marijuana users could still obtain a card if one is prescribed by a physician, and they would not be subject to the 15 percent excise tax.

Kinsey and the speaker who followed clashed most specifically on two questions about the proposition: whether it affects drug-free workplace policies and whether a legal intoxication limit can be adopted for drivers.

He said the measure makes it clear that employers retain their right to fire someone who fails a drug test for marijuana, though he acknowledged there is some debate on it.

“If you have testing right now, for your employees, you can have testing after Prop 205 passes, if it’s a fireable offense now, it’s a fireable offense after it passes,” he said.

He said it was written into the proposed law to address any issues employers had with it.

“That looks pretty specific to me: ‘does not affect the ability of employers to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the possession or consumption of marijuana and marijuana products by employees.'” he said.

The state can adopt a “per se” intoxication level similar to the .08 blood alcohol content to trigger a DUI, adding one had recently been enacted in Colorado.

“It does not prevent that type of testing, that type of standard to be passed, in Arizona. And I imagine we’ll probably see one fairly soon,” he said.

Approximately two-thirds of the audience at the forum, held at the Yuma Heritage Library, indicated they were in favor of legalization when Sheila Polk, Yavapai County attorney and co-chair of political action committee Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, asked for a show of hands.

The second speaker, she said Proposition 205 would create an exception for marijuana users under any drug-free workplace policies, where drug use alone wouldn’t be enough to trigger sanctions.

“What they wrote into this is for an employer, to discipline an employee for marijuana, what you have to prove is your employee is impaired, due to marijuana, and they are engaging in an act that constitutes negligence or malpractice,” she said, forcing employers to wait for an unsafe action to occur.

She also said there is a provision which prohibits any laws which will penalize drivers just because they have marijuana in their system. “We will never be able to have a per se amount of THC in a driver’s system. The result is our roads are more dangerous.” She added that whether or not states had a “per se” amount in their laws, marijuana-related driving and road fatalities are rising.

Polk said the law was backed primarily by local and national medical marijuana interests, and written to give existing medical dispensaries a prohibitive advantage in the new recreational market.

She added that marijuana use by youths has been shown by research to negatively affect their academic outcomes and college attendance.

“We’re talking about legalizing a substance to get about $54 million in a couple of years for education, legalizing a substance that will hurt education in Arizona. But here’s the other thing is, we don’t need that $54 million for education in Arizona,” she said, since state voters approved Proposition 123 in May, expected to divert more than $3 billion in state trust land funds being held for schools into campuses.

One thing that proved uncontroversial is Arizona’s 2010 voter-approved medical marijuana law, with even Polk saying that the drug has some medicinal benefits.

Two attendees said after the event the opposition had made some points that resonated with them, one saying it changed their opinion.

Sandy Hernandez of Yuma said “I appreciated hearing Sheila’s perspective because as a proponent of medical marijuana I thought, why not just do recreational? But because I know more I really think I’ll probably vote against the recreational.”

She said the difficulty of making changes to a voter-approved law after it was passed, which Kinsey emphasized, was the primary reason she was leaning against it.

AJ Buchtel said he is originally from Colorado, and saw that the approval of recreational marijuana there initially created a lot of new jobs. “I know there are a lot of small towns that wouldn’t ordinarily have a lot of business going on, and it’s really helped them.”

He said the one thing he doesn’t agree with in Arizona’s proposed law is any restriction on employers’ ability to enforce anti-drug policies in the workplace, but he still plans to vote for it “because that’s the kind of thing you could get three-fourths of the Legislature to agree on.”

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Campaigns For And Against Legal Marijuana Speak Out In Yuma
Author: Blake Herzog
Contact: (928) 783-3333
Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren
Website: Yuma Sun