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Could Arizona legalize marijuana? Two groups want issue on ballot

marijuana-620When Scott Cecil wound up facing a felony charge for possessing marijuana for his own use, he started to think the so-called war on drugs was targeting the wrong people.

“It really made me realize there are hundreds of thousands of people per year that are arrested for marijuana and other drugs,” he said. “They haven’t committed any violent crimes, they aren’t selling drugs, they’re just using drugs recreationally.”

Cecil, a student at Mesa Community College and board member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, is part of a larger movement to legalize marijuana in Arizona. He and other activists with Safer Arizona, a grassroots marijuana advocacy group, are trying to collect enough signatures to put a legalization initiative on the November ballot.

Dennis Bohlke, treasurer for Safer Arizona, said Arizona would be a safer place if marijuana were legalized.

“We think it’s safer than alcohol, and we find it outrageous that people are being jailed and being labeled as felons,” he said.

But is Arizona, several years removed from narrowly approving medical marijuana, ready to follow the lead of Colorado and Washington by legalizing recreational use?

Fred Solop, a political science professor at Northern Arizona University, said there may be more support out there than many would assume.

“I’ve always said that Arizona is a lesson in contradictions,” he said. “We know that some issues that are aligned ideologically in other parts of the country, like the environment, cut across some of those traditional ideological boundaries in Arizona. And I think depending on the framing, the marijuana issue cuts across those traditional cleavages as well.”

He said changing views on legalization speak to a culture change nationally.

“Just like gay marriage – the issue of gay marriage is changing nationally – we’re seeing changes in attitudes toward the legalization of marijuana,” Solop said. “It’s a national phenomenon, and it’s coming here to Arizona.”

A January poll by the Behavior Research Center found that 51 percent of Arizonans surveyed said the sale of marijuana should be legal, while 41 percent were against the idea.

That same month a national CNN/Opinion Research Poll found that 55 percent of those surveyed said marijuana should be legal while 44 percent were against it.

The notion of legalization reached the Arizona State Legislature this year, though two Democratic bills on the subject have gone nowhere.

HB 2474, introduced by Rep. Mark A. Cardenas, D-Phoenix, would make marijuana possession a petty offense. HB 2558, introduced by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, would legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Gallego said drug war has failed and that recreational use of marijuana is no different than drinking alcohol.

“If we really want to stop addiction and the drug cartels then we have to look at this and fight this in a different way,” he said.

Gallego said marijuana will eventually be legalized, most likely through a ballot initiative.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said trying to follow Colorado and Washington’s lead so soon wouldn’t be smart.

“It’s a reckless policy, and it’s born either out of ignorance or indifference to the impact to the community and to our youth and public safety,” he said.

Montgomery said claims that legalizing marijuana wouldn’t harm the community are false.

“It’s going to impact quality of life, health care, economic competitiveness and labor productivity in the long run,” he said.

Tony Ryan, a retired Denver police officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said he never had a problem with marijuana users in his 36 years in law enforcement. He now lives in Arizona.

“We didn’t get calls about somebody getting high and beating up their wife like happens with alcohol,” he said. “Marijuana people don’t cause trouble.”

But Carolyn Short, chairwoman for Keep AZ Drug Free, said legalizing marijuana would give kids the idea that marijuana is safe when medical studies indicate that it isn’t.

“We know that marijuana use is associated with schizophrenia, respiratory disease, cardiac disease and both temporary and long-term decreased brain function,” she said.

Safer Arizona has until July 3 to get the 259,213 signatures needed to get marijuana legalization on this year’s ballot. If it fails, the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which was behind the effort to bring medical marijuana to Arizona, is gearing up for campaign here in 2016, when a presidential election will boost voter turnout.

Whether legalization is on the ballot this year or in 2016, Cecil said he will keep advocating for the recreational use of the drug.

“Somebody has to be the voice of reason and the voice of what voters want,” he said.


  1. Would love to help. I, one of many, have found it the only relief for my nerve pain. I need a petition I can post to all my friends on Causes FB and many other social sites, plus something I could get signed in person here in Bullhead City, AZ

  2. The above from my sis, and it is definitely a true story.

    People, please get over your prejudices if you have them and wake up to the real story. Natural medicines such as cannabis are the future and they definitely work for most people. Thanks!

  3. Drug warriors passionately oppose legalization of marijuana. Legalization is always portrayed as a runaway system

    with easy availability of drugs and the expectation is that all will choose to use them. The dispute then

    transforms into illogical accusations that you support zombies roaming our cities or piloting airplanes.

    Regulation is completely and very purposely ignored in these arguments. It is through regulation that the

    availability can be restricted just as we have done with tobacco and alcohol. Our system is not perfect but kids

    have reported on the government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) surveys for

    many years now that it is easier for them to get marijuana than it is to get alcohol and tobacco. This also means that it is easier for our kids to get drugs since drug dealers also sell them. The drug warriors who want to keep marijuana out of the hands of kids have not listened to kids nor have they done a good job keeping marijuana out of the hands of kids. If we want to do a better job of keeping marijuana out of the hands of kids we should regulate it like alcohol and tobacco. We do a better job of keeping tobacco out of the hands of kids than we do with marijuana. We have impacted the use of tobacco by valid evidence based messages regarding the harms of consumption and we make sure that people who sell tobacco ask for ID’s. We have produced a significant reduction in the rates of use of tobacco without locking a single person up. Tobacco is clearly a more dangerous substance (It kills more people) than marijuana and it is also far more addictive than marijuana. In a regulated market governments protect people from dangerous adulterants. In a regulated market marijuana retailers will not sell other drugs to our kids. The suggestion that drug warriors protect us from drugs is ludicrous. In the unregulated market that we currently have, no one is protected.

  4. Heidi,

    We would love to put you in touch with the folks gathering signatures. Please contact me at [email protected]

  5. The truth is its not a drug it is our natural way of medicating how can anyone consider a flower that grows from our mother earth a drug no its a beautiful flower that we cant let bloom because of all the natural plant haters i legalize alcohol its a re manufactured substance that kills and puts others at risk of being killed because of drunk drivers what would the creator of our planet say legalize the marijuana flower because i made it to help relax the mind and take away the pain should we just make all flowers and plants illegal think hard they do help provide the oxygen we all need to breath they are hear and always will be so stop all the stupidity and legalize the green to help this planet stay green and help decrease the mass pollution better known as carbon monoxide deadly to us humans but these beautiful flowers absorb the carbon monoxide and oxygen so the we can breath so for all of those who are against marijuana please think about it and remember you may think its bad but its not for so many reasons i just hope all become more educated before saying no to marijuana its not a drug its not a drug but it sure is a beautiful flower that needs to grow all around this mass planet to help us stay alive thank you.

  6. Start an online signature system because you know pot heads now days are always on some type phone just make a sight advertise and see results… you make it seem like rocket science Im not waiting until 2016..

  7. Just let people know ware we can sign petions at.That is ware the first thing to do is.

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