Four Republican Ex-Arizona Superintendents of Public Instruction Push Pot Prohibition

Tom Horne, John Huppenthal, and two other Republican former Arizona Superintendents of Public Instruction came out strongly against marijuana legalization in a misguided Sunday column.

Horne, Huppenthal, Jaime Molera, and Lisa Graham Keegan claim in the op-ed published in the Arizona Republic that "raising minimal amounts of revenue through the sale of a dangerous substance that negatively impacts our students is wholly irresponsible."

They conclude that legalization of the type planned by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona, which is on track to put a proposal before voters this November, is a "bad idea."

Two of the four ex-politicians know a thing or two about bad ideas.

Horne became infamous as a one-term Arizona Attorney General following his two terms as the elected schools superintendent. Horne committed campaign-finance violations, investigated a whistle-blower, and sneaked around on his wife with another woman. Long before he got elected, a U.S. Securities and Exchanges Commission investigation found that he once intentionally filed false documents with the agency about his business.

Huppenthal taught Arizona's children how to post offensive, ignorant comments on blogs under anonymous names, then cry when caught.

Molera and Keegan have better reputations. But while a pro-pot stance would be less expected of a foursome of former educators, the column presents a biased view of cannabis social studies and underplays the math questions.

The first canard in the group's argument should be clear: The plain fact is that marijuana is already for sale in the state and is used — according to the state's own estimates — by more than half a million Arizonans. The question is whether the sales should be regulated and taxed. In Colorado, for example, where marijuana retail stores have operated for about two years without much problem (says that state's governor), authorities estimate that more than half of the cannabis demand now is met by a taxed, regulated, and legal supply.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and the anti-pot group she leads, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, make similar arguments, trying to convince the public that legalizing marijuana means some "dangerous" new drug is going to hit the streets. Not only isn't marijuana dangerous, it's already here.

Although the legalization law proposed in Arizona would allow sales of cannabis only to adults 21 and older, the ex-educators focus on the slightly higher addiction rate of teens versus adults. As a New Times article on addiction detailed last month, even if a small number of people meet the official criteria for dependence on cannabis, such dependence is mild compared to addictions to booze or hard drugs.

While children and teens using any sort of substance regularly is a problem, the former politicians are incorrect that there is "no way" to legalize marijuana and keep it away from youth and out of schools, because Arizona already has done this. State voters legalized marijuana for medicinal use in 2010, and now about 90,000 Arizonans are authorized to possess and use it. Since then, teen use of marijuana in Arizona has declined overall.

Use by youth in Colorado has increased by a statistically insignificant amount since legalization, according to one government survey — but it's not the amount the former educators say it is. Using a TV station's news website as a source, the foursome states that "youth marijuana use has increased 20 percent since it was legalized."

The TV station got it wrong, though — that's the statewide average for everyone 12 and older, and the increase is mainly driven by people 21 and older — those old enough to legally buy marijuana. The survey to which the former educators refer, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, reported that the rate of use for Colorado teens, ages 12 to 17, was 11.2 percent in a two-year study period ending in 2013, and had risen to 12.6 percent a year later. That's a 12.5 percent increase, not a 20 percent boost.

The more up-to-date Monitoring the Future survey released in December showed teen use of marijuana in America has remained flat over the past few years.

The four also are wrong to claim that legalization had resulted in more expulsions and suspensions among students. In fact, information provided to New Times by Polk's group shows just the opposite: Expulsions and drug violations that led to law enforcement contacts in high schools have decreased significantly in Colorado since legalization. 

The group also writes that $58 million annually for Arizona schools is a "mere drop in the bucket" compared to Arizona's $9 billion education budget and doesn't take into account "the potential costs." According to them,"it's a safe bet those costs would far exceed any theoretical income."

A true cost-benefit analysis of the proposed legalization measure hasn't yet been conducted by the state, but known evidence makes a case that's contrary to what these conservatives proclaim.