Is Marijuana Legal In Arizona
Arizona voters passed a measure that legalized marijuana for recreational use. But the state’s Republican governor is still threatening to veto it. What does this mean? And what happens next in AZ legalization?
On November 8 of last year, Arizona citizens voted by a wide margin to legalize the possession and consumption of small amounts of marijuana for recreational purposes. With only 58% of the vote counted, the “Yes on 64” campaign had captured 51% of the vote (with only 48% needed), while only 42% were against legalization.
This was not an easy victory for advocates who have spent years fighting for such change. Backers of Measure B faced opposition from all sides, including law enforcement officials, religious leaders, and even some members of their own party.
They managed to overcome these obstacles with strong support among younger voters, and they also found help from outside groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project.
A similar initiative failed miserably just two years ago, so many people understandably feel cautiously optimistic about legal weed’s future prospects in Arizona. Here’s how this happened, why it matters, and what it means for other states.
According to unofficial results, as of November 8, 2016, 57 percent of votes were yes, 43 percent no. According to official numbers released by the Secretary of State, it was even closer than we thought — with 50.3% voting yes and 49.7% voting no.
Measure B won because of its relatively straightforward argument, which focused less on new rights or freedoms than on reducing social costs associated with prohibition. Proponents pointed out that marijuana arrests disproportionately affect minorities, citing data showing that blacks and Latinos are more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than whites.
They argued that legalizing pot would reduce those costs since fewer people would get arrested.
They also noted that marijuana sales tax revenues could fund public services like education and transportation. Of course, opponents countered that most users don’t buy marijuana very often, meaning their purchases aren’t enough to generate much revenue. That said, marijuana taxes indeed tend to be lower than alcohol ones.
Opponents claimed that legalization would lead to increases in crime rates, but supporters pointed to studies suggesting otherwise. Some researchers argue that marijuana may decrease violent crime due to its effects on users’ impulse control and general stress levels. As far back as 2005, California saw decreases in drug-related crimes when medical cannabis became legal, according to one study.
And finally, proponents claimed that legalization would allow police to focus more resources on serious criminals instead of wasting them on low-level offenders. Again, this seems to be supported by evidence from California, where police shifted resources away from enforcing trivial marijuana laws after Proposition 19 passed in 1996.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons to oppose legalization aside from cost savings. For example, many feared that legalizing marijuana would cause young people to try harder drugs. However, studies show that teens who already smoke marijuana are less likely to start using hard substances later.
It should go without saying that many people believe marijuana is harmful and shouldn’t be used recreationally. Opponents of legalization cited health risks and potential harm to developing brains and claimed that marijuana could trigger schizophrenia-like symptoms.
But maybe you’re not convinced yet. Perhaps you think this doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a single state rather than nationwide policy changes. Or maybe you want to know what it will look like once it becomes a reality. If any of these things interest you, keep reading!
The Governor Says No, But…
If you weren’t aware, our federal government has a lot to say about what goes on inside individual U.S. states. Congress controls whether states can pass specific laws, and the president has final approval power over those decisions. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton refused to sign off on proposed initiatives in 1994 and 2000 when it comes to legalization measures.
That changed under Obama, who signed a bill into law allowing Colorado and Washington to implement their respective marijuana legalization schemes. Since then, several additional states have followed suit. Now it’s up to Trump to decide whether he wants to continue down this road. He hasn’t made his mind clear yet, but he recently told Reuters that he opposes legalization for recreational purposes.
But here’s the thing: Trump isn’t really in charge of what happens to marijuana legislation in Arizona. His office is part of a giant political machine known as the National Governors Association, whose leadership consists of elected governors from around the country. So, while Trump himself might disagree with the decision, he’s powerless to stop it anyway.
As long as the majority of NGA leadership agrees with it, though, it stands to reason that Trump will probably follow along. After all, his job is to represent the interests of his constituents first and foremost. You’d hope that includes supporting efforts to make their states better places to live.
This brings us to another interesting point; Trump is currently facing a pretty sizable threat to re-election. Several high-profile Republicans have come out strongly against marijuana legalization, including Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Jeff Sessions. These politicians have traditionally opposed any loosening of restrictions on marijuana, claiming that it hurts society at large.
If Trump takes a stand against legalization, it might play right into their hands. He could potentially hurt his election chances by opposing something popular among voters. On the flip side, however, it could convince swing voters that he’s too conservative to trust. Either way, marijuana reform will remain mostly unaffected by politics until 2022, when the electorate gets to decide again.
So Who Veto-Elects The New Legislature?
Trump hasn’t decided yet, but the voters did elect legislators who do agree with the passage of Amendment 64. Democrats took four seats out of 12 total, while Republicans picked up six — giving them a supermajority in both chambers.
These victories came despite attempts by both major parties to take pot legalization off the ballot. Last summer, Democratic lawmakers tried to force a special legislative session to consider the issue, but Republicans blocked their move.
Then, during the 2016 regular session, GOP representatives attempted to attach a legalization amendment to unrelated budget bills, hoping to slip it through unnoticed. Voters rejected that strategy by passing Initiative 301, which calls for a statewide referendum every three years on whether to maintain current marijuana regulations.
Since the legislature favors legalization, it’ll need to write rules governing how and where marijuana businesses can operate. One possibility is that lawmakers could limit how many licenses each company receives, perhaps placing different caps based on geography. Another idea involves requiring companies to pay taxes on their products.
Either way, the process will attract lots of attention from lobbyists representing various industries — banks, dispensaries, agriculture, etc. — and many people expect big money to pour into campaigns for and against specific proposals.
For those interested, check out this page for updated information on the latest developments.
How Will This Affect Other States?
Now that Arizona has passed legalization, other states are watching closely to see how it plays out. Most notably, Nevada holds elections on December 16, 2018, to choose senators for 2020. The Senate District 4 seat is up for grabs, and polls suggest that the incumbent Democrat, Catherine Cortez Masto, has a good shot at winning.
Masto supports marijuana legalization, but she hasn’t been particularly outspoken about it. She didn’t vote for the proposition itself, but her opponent, Sharman Stone, says he plans to make it a priority if elected. Should the race become close, it’s possible that pro-pot sentiment could sway Nevada voters towards Stone.
There are also gubernatorial races in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. None of these seem overly promising for pro-cannabis forces, but activists are keeping tabs on them nonetheless.
Finally, many states are considering legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Several states have done so already, but others are weighing legalization as a way to bring in extra cash. If these efforts succeed, it wouldn’t necessarily signify a shift toward full legalization. Instead, it could simply open up the market for recreational users.
State legislatures will also weigh legalization measures themselves. Many states will be looking to put forward their own efforts before the 2022 deadline, so stay tuned for more news on that front as well.
We’ve covered a few essential points above, but let’s recap. Arizona passed a measure that allows adults 21 and older to possess limited quantities of marijuana for personal use. Users must also consume their product within private residences unless allowed elsewhere.
Voters approved this measure with roughly 60% of the vote. Once implemented, this will make Arizona join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington as states that fully permit marijuana use.
Governor Doug Ducey threatened to veto the measure, calling it unconstitutional.
Should Ducey veto the action, it will head to the state legislature for consideration.
Many observers expect the new parliament to approve the measure, possibly making it easier to override Ducey’s veto.
With this being the third successful marijuana legalization initiative in the past five years, it’s fair to assume that the trend will continue.