A marijuana legalization campaign is nearing its goal of gathering 150,000 valid signatures to get on the November ballot.
The initiative would ask Arizona voters to legalize marijuana for recreational use and establish a network of licensed cannabis shops where sales of the drug would be taxed.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is a few thousand signatures short of gathering the 150,642 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, spokesman Barrett Marson said Wednesday. However, some of those signatures are likely invalid — gathered from people who cannot vote — and the group aims to collect 225,000 signatures, he said.
"Arizonans are clearly excited about this initiative," Marson added.
Many others are not, including one group that has been educating the public about harms of the drug on children and society. The Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has pointed to news articles and statistics and a new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey that shows Colorado leads the nation in past-month marijuana use following its legalization of the drug in 2012.
Under the proposed Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, adults 21 and older could possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes without obtaining licenses, as long as the plants are in a secure area.
It would also create a distribution system similar to Colorado's, where licensed businesses produce and sell marijuana.
The initiative also would create a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to regulate the "cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation, and sale of marijuana" and would give local governments the authority to regulate and ban marijuana stores. It also would establishe a 15 percent tax on retail sales, with proceeds going to fund education, including full-day kindergarten and public health.
Under the 2016 Arizona initiative language, driving while impaired by marijuana would remain illegal, as would consuming marijuana in public and selling or giving the drug to anyone under 21.
Taxation of the program would pay for the state's cost of implementing and enforcing the initiative. Forty percent of the taxes on marijuana would be directed to the Department of Education for construction, maintenance and operation costs, including salaries of K-12 teachers. Another 40 percent would be set aside for full-day kindergarten programs. And 20 percent would go to the state Department of Health Services for unspecified uses.
Revenue from the taxes could not flow into the state's general fund, which would allow it to be spent for other purposes.
By Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, The Republic -via AZ Central/Jan. 13, 2016
Photo: Nick Oza