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Arizona Marijuana-Legalization Bill Will Be Proposed by House Democrat

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Assistant House Minority Leader Ruben Gallego, a Phoenix Democrat, announced plans to introduce a marijuana-legalization bill during the upcoming legislative session.

Gallego, an Iraq War veteran, said he's working on a bill "that would regulate and tax marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol."

(Before we get ahead of ourselves, yes, Republicans still have a healthy majority in both chambers of the Legislature, and several Republicans still try to fight the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program.)

What Gallego is proposing isn't anything radically different from laws in states like Colorado and Washington, which have legalized marijuana for personal use.

He says the bill will allow people 21 years old and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and no more than five plants.

The legislation also would set up a ban on smoking it in public and establish regulations for places that can sell marijuana. The bill also will include an excise tax on pot sales, which "distributes the tax proceeds to fund public education and treatment programs for alcohol and drug abuse, with half of the money going to the state general fund."

Gallego released a statement saying:

"The issue of marijuana regulation is pragmatic. Regulating marijuana takes sales off the street and puts them in a controlled environment. Ultimately, this will help law enforcement, especially in times when resources are limited. About 750,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related offenses in 2012, and the majority of those arrests were simply for possession. Law enforcement officers' time and resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes, so that we are all safer. Additionally, we can use some of the money generated from the sales to pay for public education and treatment programs for alcohol and drug abuse."

According to a poll on the issue, a majority (56 percent) of Arizonans said they support marijuana legalization.

In addition to Gallego's legislation, a group called Safer Arizona is trying to collect 259,213 signatures by July 2014 to get the issue on ballots for voting to decide. The odds aren't exactly on the pro-legalization side for the petition, either, since Safer Arizona doesn't have major financial backing, which is pretty much a necessity for anyone looking to gather more than a quarter-million valid signatures.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

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