Nov 21, 2016 12:15 PM

Arizona Rejects Marijuana Legalization

On Tuesday, Arizonians defeated Proposition 205, which would have legalized limited recreational marijuana sales for adults 21 years old or older and created a commercial industry to tax and regulate the drug. According to the reported voting results, the initiative was rejected by 52 percent of votes, losing by nearly 80,000 votes. That is pretty much the same margin as it was in the 2010 election, when medical marijuana was approved.

While California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, and voters in Florida and North Dakota said “yes” to medical cannabis, Arizonians left recreational marijuana no chance.

Unfortunately, adults in Arizona will continue to face felony charges for carrying a small amount of cannabis, and the drug will continue to be sold on the black market where sales generate millions of dollars for drug cartels each year. Currently, only patients that have a medical marijuana card can legally and safely buy and possess up to one ounce of the drug for medicinal purposes and no more than six plants in their homes.

Long Arms of Business

Chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona, J. P. Holyoak, expressed his disappointment but added that they intended to continue fighting for a “sensible marijuana policy reform.” The state's initiative submitted nearly 259,000 signatures in July, while to make the ballot only150, 642 signatures were needed. So, how could the initiative come up short in the state where the percentage of respondents in favor of Prop. 205 remained steady at about fifty percent? Experts point to several reasons for which the marijuana measure was declined.

The first one is the strong campaign of the opposition group called Arizonians for Responsible Drug Policy and its wealthy donors. Discount Tire Company and its billionaire owner Bruce Halle donated $1 million to help defeat the legalization of the recreational use of cannabis in the state. The Nevada casino magnate Sheldon Adelson gave over $500,000 to the group fighting Arizona's cannabis legalization measure. And fentanyl manufacturer Insys Therapeutics presented half of a million dollars to the anti-marijuana legalization campaign. Using these funds in a well-planned “educational” campaign made a big difference.

Lying on Both Hands

The second reason lies in the fact that many Arizonians still do not fully understand why recreational marijuana should be legal. People express their concerns about driving under the influence. Though Prop. 205 explicitly forbids operating a vehicle while impaired, the initiative also states that no one may be penalized by the state for an action taken while under the influence of marijuana solely because of the presence of the components of the substance in the body. That left many Arizonians confused by the conflicting sentiments.

Anti-marijuana groups easily speculated on the issue, assuring Arizonians that the proposition would be worse than the current law and pointing to negative effects of legal weed in the neighboring Colorado. Meanwhile, Colorado officials sent a letter to the leaders of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy in which they asked them to stop lying to people.

Moreover, the legalization of the robust underground cannabis industry could pose significant problems for local business groups, which largely funded the anti-marijuana campaign. People were convinced that legal marijuana could lead to increased youth drug use, less productive employees, and more impaired workers.

At the same time, some experts agreed that Prop. 205 had to fail. A professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College, Jonatan Caulkins, said that the proposition was designed not to stop people from being arrested but to serve the interests of business owners in Arizona. He referred to the provision that gave preference for cannabis retail licenses to existing, nonprofit medical pot dispensaries and compared it to an oil company being in charge of regulating on where to drill.

Although Arizona failed in allowing the recreational use of cannabis, the supporters of the legalization are saying that they will continue to fight. The approval of the initiative in California and other states could mean the softening of federal laws in the states where marijuana is still illegal in the near future. After all, Proposition 64 means that 40 million of Californians suddenly have grow rights in that state alone.

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