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Arizona law meant as improvement on Colorado, but experts say Prop. 205 still isn't perfect

Experts discuss the November ballot initiative that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana

Moderator Braham Resnik, of 12 News, speaks in a panel discussion about marijuana legislation on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016.
Moderator Braham Resnik, of 12 News, speaks in a panel discussion about marijuana legislation on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016.

As the November election draws closer, marijuana's potential legalization for recreation has drawn comparisons to similar legislation across the country.

Just fewer than 300 people filed into ASU's Beus Center for Law and Society on Sept. 13 for a forum regarding Arizona Proposition 205. As panelists argued the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana for recreational use, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor sat in the front row and listened. 

The discussion featured experts on marijuana policy and was moderated by 12 News Anchor and Reporter Brahm Resnik.

The forum's voices ranged from authorities on national policy to local county figures. 

Many arguments were presented regarding the regulation, taxation and safety of marijuana and some were curious as to whether or not the taxation of marijuana would be as helpful to Arizona education as proponents of Prop. 205 hope it will be.

Mark Kleiman, the director of the crime and justice program at NYU’s Marron Institute of Urban Management, expressed concern with the tax rate around legalized marijuana.

He said the prices will collapse and create a decrease in revenue, which will result in a lack of funding available to the schools. 

J.P. Holyoak, a Marijuana Policy Project campaign chairman, took the opposite approach. 

"Yes, the price will go down, but it doesn’t go to zero," Holyoak said. "We need to look at who’s purchasing it, and the sales revenue, because that’s exactly how we structure our tax. … It’s a surtax that goes to public education and health. That number doesn’t go to zero unless people stop purchasing marijuana.”

Similarities to Colorado law

Colorado Amendment 64 is not identical to Prop. 205. 

In both states, the legal age for use of marijuana is 21, and people are not allowed to possess more than one ounce of marijuana at a time. It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, and marijuana can only be purchased from and distributed by state-licensed businesses.

Arizona regulations

Arizona regulates the personal growth of marijuana more strictly than Colorado. 

An Arizona resident may only grow up to six marijuana plants in their personal residence if the plants are stored under lock and key. In Colorado, plants may be grown in any area which is locked and private.

“We see tighter restrictions here, … but less opportunities for local control of licensed businesses (than in Colorado),” Kilroy said. 

Increase in potency

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said marijuana has changed significantly since its inception into popular culture.

“The marijuana being sold today is not the marijuana that was smoked at Woodstock,” Montgomery said.

The THC levels of marijuana tested in Colorado has proven to have potency ranging from anywhere from 16 to 36 percent, while edibles and concentrates can reach 90 percent THC, Montgomery said. 

Panelists reported scenarios in which amateur users experienced negative reactions to extremely potent marijuana products.

Drug-free workplaces

If Prop. 205 passes, employers still have a right to maintain a drug-free work environment — meaning they may still drug test employees and reprimand them for using marijuana. Similarly, the legalization of recreational marijuana does not change the consequences of DUIs, according to Holyoak.

Underage use

Using marijuana under the age of 21 will now be considered a petty offense, even if the drug was purchased with a fake ID, Montgomery said. On the other hand, if an underage person purchases alcohol with a fake ID they can be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor, face large fines and potentially serve jail time.

Panelists all acknowledged potential hazards surrounding the proposition, ranging from the potential of actually disabling illegal drug trafficking, to the difficulty in charging citizens with DUIs after legalization.

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