No, you’re not seeing double.
The Arizona Public Health Association has submitted an argument supporting legalizing marijuana for recreational use. It will appear in the ballot brochure being mailed to voters ahead of the November election.
It also submitted one against the measure.
But former state Health Director Will Humble, a member of the association’s board, said there’s a good reason for that.
He said the group believes there are positive things that could come out of voter approval of the measure in November. Those range from eliminating the possibility of felony convictions for small amounts of marijuana as well as reducing violence from the current illegal marijuana trade.
Humble said, though, there also are risks to the public, including more impaired drivers and easier access to the drug for children.
The bottom line, he said, depends on how a new state regulatory agency the initiative would set up writes the rules for the sale and use of the drug. Humble said that could make all the difference on whether legalizing recreational use is a good or bad thing from a public health perspective.
But the Arizona law that lets individuals and groups weigh in on pending ballot measures allows for only “pro” and “con” statements. He said that left the group with only one option: Submit identical 300-word arguments on both sides.
“Our goal isn’t to persuade voters, it’s to inform voters,” Humble said. And that means reaching as many voters as possible.
“If they’re already for it, they’re probably just going to read the ‘pros,’” he said.
“Or maybe they’ll just read the ‘cons,’” Humble continued. “But we wanted to be in both places.”
Humble said the decision to include the association’s position in both the pro and con arguments that will go into the brochures is more than a laundry list of the potential good and bad things that could happen if adults are allowed to buy and use marijuana for recreational purposes. He said it’s also a call on Arizonans to take an active role in monitoring the program if it is approved.
More significant, Humble said voters need to keep an eye on — and pressure if necessary — the Arizona Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to enact the proper safeguards. It would be that agency, created if the initiative is approved, that would craft the rules that will govern much of how the drug is pedaled in the state.
“The statute the voters approve is just the skeleton,” Humble explained.
“It’s not the actual organism,” he continued. “That is what the rule making is for.”
What that means, Humble explained, is a lot of how recreational marijuana unfolds in Arizona depends on “how that agency … chooses to use its newfound statutory authority.”
For example, he said the initiative states that recreational marijuana is available only to those 21 and older.
But it is up to the commission to adopt rules to ensure that the state-licensed shops live up to that law. That means deciding what forms of identification are acceptable.
And Humble said even if dealers can be prosecuted criminally for selling marijuana to those younger than 21, the new agency could adopt rules creating additional punishments, like the suspension or loss of the license to sell the drug.
“There’s things you could do in the administrative code that really matter in terms of how this gets implemented in the long run,” he said.
Then there’s how the product is promoted.
The language in the proposed new law specifically requires the new state agency to enact requirements for the marketing, display and advertising of marijuana and accessories. And it also mandates restrictions on marketing or advertising that appeals to children.
But how far those limits can go remains up for debate.
“They can create restrictions on advertising but they cannot ban it,” said attorney Ryan Hurley who has been intimately involved with the initiative. He declined to spell out what would be permitted.
“Whether any particular restriction would be valid or not would have to be determined on an individual basis,” he said.
And there’s more.
The initiative requires the new state agency to come up with packaging requirements, including child-resistant containers, as well as a system for dividing a marijuana product into a “standardized serving size.”
Other regulations the new board has to enact include:
– Restrictions on pesticides and additives that would make the marijuana addictive or injurious to health;
– Labels showing the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient, in each serving;
– A list of ingredients, allergens and solvents used in the manufacture of the product;
– Requirements for testing to measure potency.