As a campaign to legalize marijuana by a vote of the people picks up steam, Rep. Mark Cardenas hopes to convince his fellow lawmakers it’d be better if the Arizona Legislature legalized it first.
The Phoenix Democrat is once again sponsoring bills to regulate the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes, as well as to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Arizona’s penal code.
The bills would make it legal for those 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, which would be for sale at state-regulated retail outlets, where sales would be assessed a $50-an-ounce tax. Legislative budget analysts estimated a similar levy could generate more than $48 million a year. Users could also grow up to five plants of their own.
HB2006 and HB2007 mirror legislation Cardenas sponsored in 2015. Last year’s bills, opposed by Republicans – chiefly, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who chairs the committee in which the bills would need a hearing – never got far.
Cardenas hopes the impending threat of an initiative to legalize marijuana may sway some legislators’ minds. Legislating by the ballot box often leads to unintended results, which are then difficult to change due to voter protection laws. Proposition 105, approved by voters in 1998, requires a three-fourths majority vote of both chambers of the Arizona Legislature for lawmakers to alter such a law. And the proposition stipulates that any changes to the law may only be done to further the intent of the voters.
Officials already have examples of when voter-approved laws become troublesome to fix, such as when some cities tried to effectively outlaw medical marijuana dispensaries through ordinances and zoning requirements, Cardenas said.
“As I said last year, my reason for sponsoring the bill and introducing it is that it’s easier to change if we do it,” he said. “Doing it through the Legislature, if there’s an unforeseen consequence, it’d be easier to fix,” he said.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona is moving closer to getting a legalization initiative to the ballot in November. As of Jan. 5, the campaign collected 136,000 of the 150,642 valid signatures of registered voters required for the measure to be placed on the November ballot, according to spokesman Barrett Marson. The political committee, backed by the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, has until June 1 to gather signatures.
The initiative proposes a 15 percent tax on marijuana sales, in addition to standard sales taxes. Funds would be earmarked to implement the enforcement and regulation of marijuana sales. Remaining funds would be earmarked for a variety of causes, divided among revenues for K-12 education, full-day kindergarten programs, and funding for the Department of Health Services.
Cardenas also makes the case that, if lawmakers legalize marijuana, they’d be doing the job they’re sent to the Capitol to do: executing the will of the people.
A June 2015 Rocky Mountain Poll found that 53 percent of Arizonans support legalizing marijuana, in small amounts, for personal use – a poll that the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol touted as sign of the likely success of their ballot initiative.
“It’s great that we’re going directly to the voters of Arizona to actually establish this, but we are there to represent people in our district,” Cardenas said. “A majority of Arizonans support the system of taxation and regulation. And we’re there because we’re supposed to be smart about governing.”