State Publishes Public Arguments on Arizona's Weed-Legalization Measure, Hilarity Ensues

Governor Ducey imagines Arizona students lounging around, stoned out of their minds on marijuana-laced lollipops.

A Scottsdale mom worries about pot stores on every corner.

The Arizona Public Health Association sees benefits as well as risks.

Arizona voters will find these opinions and more among the pro and con arguments for Arizona's marijuana-legalization initiative that the state published last week. It's an entertaining, albeit lopsided, glimpse into various views on the issue. Advocates for making weed as legal in Arizona as firearms or alcohol will find plenty of reefer madness within the arguments, which are dominated by the "con" side. 

The filing deadline for the arguments was July 13, following a one-week submission window that began on the July 7 deadline to turn in ballot-measure petitions. The state charged $75 for each argument of 300 words or fewer.

The full pamphlet is viewable online, along with pro/con arguments of other upcoming ballot measures. The state also mails a paper copy of the arguments to registered to voters in advance of the election.

Eight people or groups turned in arguments for the "pro" side's six pages in the publication, urging voters to approve the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (RTMA). On the "con" side, 40 people or groups turned in 47 arguments.

Jason Medar, a former California dispensary owner who led a failed effort this year to put a more-permissive legalization measure on the Arizona ballot, submitted eight separate arguments for the con side.

The measure, sponsored by the national Marijuana Policy Project and Arizona medical-marijuana dispensaries that would benefit from its passage, is expected to be put on the ballot now that the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona has submitted 258,699 signatures to the state.

Besides granting the freedom to possess or grow personal amounts of marijuana for all Arizonans 21 and older, the measure would set up a limited retail-store system and new regulatory agency to provide oversight.

Arguments against the RTMA came mostly from the usual suspects: the primary opposition group, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy; Governor Doug Ducey; Glenn Hamer and Dennis Dahlen of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Congressman Trent Franks; Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos; and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. Readers of the online pamphlet will also hear from representatives of the Arizona Farm Bureau, the Catholic church, and various southern Arizona Hispanic chambers of commerce.

And from Michelle Mowrey, a Scottsdale mom who told New Times that she forked over her $75 to comment on behalf of no one but herself. (See update below.)

"It's a Disaster because it allows for more pot shops than Starbucks and McDonald's combined in Arizona," reads Mowrey's con argument. "It's a Disaster because it protects stoned drivers. It's hard to believe, but it's true. This initiative PROHIBITS the state from EVER enacting a legal limit like there is for alcohol at .08."

"Seventy-five dollars isn't anything compared to the cost of a child becoming addicted to any substance, including marijuana," she told New Times.

"I've seen the devastation of addiction. I'm not an addict, but I've had it in my family," Mowrey added.

Asked whether the addictive substance in that instance was marijuana, Mowrey replied, "It doesn't matter what the substance is."

Contrary to Mowrey's assertion, the RTMA provides for an initial rollout of about 150 cannabis retail outlets. An expansion is possible — if it's allowed by the called-for regulatory agency, which, per the ballot measure, would have a director and seven commission members appointed by the governor. Three of the commission members would be representatives of current, nonprofit medical-marijuana dispensary companies; presumably, they would not be in a rush to create a whole bunch of new competition for themselves.

Arizona Governor Doug DuceyEXPAND
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey

In addition to its potential for putting the brakes on new licenses, the proposed process means Arizona residents may not see much change in the retail-pot situation statewide, because most new "recreational" facilities will be the same medical-marijuana stores that are already open.

Mowrey's theory regarding "stoned drivers" omits the fact that the RTMA states specifically that "driving while impaired by marijuana remains illegal."

Governor Ducey, a strong proponent and promoter of legal alcohol, penned a colorful view of Colorado youth to warn Arizona voters.

"Forty-five percent of pot sales in Colorado are edibles such as candy bars, lollipops, and cookies," Ducey wrote. "Students suck on lollipops between classes, go into class stoned, learn nothing, and teachers are increasingly helpless. How is this supposed to be good for Arizona?"

Ducey also cites an Arizona Republic editorial regarding the tax revenue the RTMA could bring in for state schools. As New Times showed last August, the editorial, which called the RTMA's claim of $40 million annually in tax revenue "bunk" and a "lie" (as Ducey noted in his argument), was based on inaccurate figures — so inaccurate that the paper had to correct the piece (which Ducey neglected to note).

What's more, evidently Ducey hasn't read the state's own report on the subject. Last month, Arizona's Joint Legislative Budget Committee released an official estimate of the RTMA's impact, stating that the measure would bring in $82 million per year in taxes and licensing fees by 2020, plus another $42 million annually in state and local sales tax. Ducey's argument that the costs "will far, far outweigh any tax revenue" is a guess, according to the JLBC.

Wrote the state's official budget crunchers:

"The initiative could result in other fiscal impacts that are difficult to quantify, including increased public
expenditures for substance abuse treatment and adjudication of individuals charged with driving under the influence of marijuana. There could also be savings from reduced expenditures on arrests, prosecution, and punishment of marijuana possession and trafficking."

While we're at it, here are a couple of other "con" arguments of interest:

• Obed Escobar, a pastor who also serves as community relations director for the conservative group Center for Arizona Policy, expresses his argument in the first-person plural but doesn't say who else he's speaking for.

Arizona law requires that if an argument is sponsored, it should make clear who paid for it.

Escobar told New Times on Monday that he'd have to check with his superiors at the CAP to see if he could comment for this article. CAP spokeswoman Cindy Dahlgren then called back to say Escobar wouldn't be able to talk about the submission.

She explained that Escobar's use of "we" and "us" was meant to include his fellow pastors. When pressed about who footed the bill, Dahlgren said the CAP did and conceded that the sponsorship should have been disclosed.

"It was on there, but they dropped it," Dahlgren said, referring to the Secretary of State's Office.

In fact, as of Monday afternoon the office was still trying to figure out who paid for Escobar's submission. Matt Roberts, spokesman for Secretary of State Michelle Reagan, forwarded e-mails to New Times showing that a state elections specialist had contacted the group on Monday to ask if Escobar's argument, which was paid for by someone named Allison MacMurtrie, was in fact sponsored by the CAP. Alissa Harshbarger, a CAP employee, told the state it was and asked that it be reported as such.

Roberts told New Times the state planned to revise the online arguments to include the disclosure.

CAP president Cathi Herrod submitted a separate con argument; that one, co-signed by Josh Kredit, states it's sponsored by the CAP.

• Will Humble, on behalf of the Arizona Public Health Association, submitted the same argument to both the pro and con sides, pointing out benefits like a reduction in violence associated with black-market sales, and drawbacks like a potential increase in hospitalizations of children who accidentally consume cannabis-infused food products.

"How well the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act is implemented will affect the law’s net
impact on public health," wrote Humble, a AZPHA board member and former director of the state Department of Health Services.

Humble said on Monday that the influential health association followed the national APHA by not taking a stance for or against legalization, and that it made a point to include a web link to more information on the subject.

"We decided to put into both sets so no matter what the person was reading, the pro or the con, they could see what we were saying and read what's on our website and judge for themselves," he explained.

Not surprisingly, the first argument listed on the pro side is sponsored by the RTMA campaign and written by the campaign's chairman, Arizona dispensary owner J.P. Holyoak, and campaign aide Carlos Alfaro.

"Marijuana prohibition has failed and it is time for a new approach to marijuana," they wrote. "It's time to stop punishing adults who use marijuana responsibly."

Holyoak and other dispensary owners, who'll have the first shot at the new dispensary licenses under the proposed law, stand to make a fortune if voters go for it. That blatant grab for money is a sticking point with many legalization advocates as well as pot prohibitionists. On the other hand, the financial incentive explains the army of paid signature gatherers that hit the streets over the past few months, whose wages were supplied through donations of more than $1 million from dispensaries and the national Marijuana Policy Project.

Arizona had 587,100 marijuana consumers aged 21 and older in 2013, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee's recent report. That's about 4,000 customers per potential store.

Several other well-known proponents of cannabis freedom in Arizona, including Kathy Inman and Dr. Jeffrey Singer, who worked to get Arizona's medical-marijuana and drug-law reform initiative passed in 1996, wrote arguments sponsored by the campaign.

Additionally, three pro arguments were penned by public defenders: David Euchner (Pima County), Sarah Mayhew (Pima County), and Kevin Heade (Maricopa County) — all sponsored by Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice.

UPDATE: Although Mowrey filed the argument only on behalf of herself, she neglected to tell New Times that she was the co-founder of Drug Free AZ and serves as director of Prevention Works Arizona. She listed those titles when she filed as a plaintiff in a lawsuit with Polk and Leibsohn that aims to deny voters the right to vote on the issue.

CORRECTION: Jason Medar filed eight arguments, not seven.

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