Marijuana Ballot Initiative Submits Signatures; State Deems Legalization a Moneymaker

It has been a good few weeks for those who want to see marijuana legalized in Arizona.

Days after U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego announced his support for the state's leading legalization ballot initiative, the group behind the measure, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, submitted 258,582 petition signatures to the secretary of state.

If at least 150,642 of those signatures prove valid, the measure will appear on the ballot in November and Arizona voters will decide whether to legalize cannabis.

One of the strongest arguments for legalization has been the amount of money it will make for our cash-strapped state's underfunded public-education system.

Perhaps coincidentally, on the same day the CRMLA submitted its signed petitions, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee published a report analyzing the potential impact of legalization under the ballot initiative and concluded that the regulatory system the CRMLA proposes will net the state millions of dollars a year.

At its most basic, the CRMLA initiative allows anyone age 21 or older to grow up to six marijuana plants, and establishes the Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to regulation and license marijuana retail stores, manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and to handle the law-enforcement aspects of regulation. The DMLC would be funded by a 15 percent sales tax, plus revenue from licensing fees or civil fines related to regulation.

The budget committee's report estimates that the CRMLA initiative would generate $53.4 million in 2019 and $82.0 million the following year. Even after funding the DMLC, which is expected to cost $15 million in 2019 and $12 million in 2020, legalized marijuana is expected to supply tens of millions of dollars for local school systems and public health.

By the JLBC's estimate, the initiative will net $38 million for schools and the Department of Health Services in 2019, and $69.5 million in 2020.

The report also points out that legalized marijuana would be subject to state and local taxes, which could generate additional revenues of $22.4 million in 2019 and $41.8 million in 2020. "These monies would be available for general use," the JBLC notes.
Past revenue analyses of the CRMLA initiative have been even more optimistic. The Grand Canyon Institute and the Tax Foundation predicted 2019 revenues of $72 million and $113 million, respectively. The JBLC says its less-rosy prediction stems from the fact that the other organizations based their calculations on Colorado marijuana consumption rates, which tend to be higher than Arizona's.

Proponents of legalized marijuana say it's high time the state cashes in and puts an end to the criminalization of a substance that clearly isn't going away any time soon.

"Forcing sales of this plant into the underground market has resulted in billions of dollars flowing into the hands of drug cartels and other criminals," Rep. Gallego said at a recent press conference announcing his support of the initiative. "It will make Arizona communities safer, while also generating some much-needed tax revenue for our schools."

The Arizona Secretary of State is expected to announce sometime in August whether the initiative received enough valid signatures to qualify for November's ballot.
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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser