Here's what you need to know about Proposition 205, "Arizona Marijuana Legalization."
Like Nevada's legalization initiative, Prop 205's regulations are modelled after the Colorado example. If passed, the new law would allow adults 21 or older to buy and possess up to one ounce of cannabis (or up to 5 grams of concentrates like hash) for private consumption. Smoking or vaping in public would remain illegal. As in Colorado, residents would be allowed to grow up to six plants at home as long as they're locked in an enclosed area like a closet or greenhouse. The household limit on cultivation is 12 plants, so even if a home had 4 adult residents, they won't be allowed to grow 6 plants each.
Recreational marijuana sales would be charged a 15 percent sales tax, which is comparable to the rates charged in other legal states.
Sales would be restricted to retailers licensed by a new branch of state government: the Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control (DMLC). The DMLC director would be appointed by the governor, which could make things tricky since Governor Doug Ducey (R) is against legalization. The new department would include a law enforcement unit to inspect businesses involved in the industry, address complaints and ensure that regulations are being followed.
One thing that makes Prop 205 unique is its cap on the number of retail marijuana stores. The cap on licenses is set at 10 percent of the total number of licensed liquor stores in Arizona. So if the state has 1,000 liquor stores, there can't be more than 100 marijuana retailers until 2021. That's when the DMLC will have a chance to raise the cap if necessary to combat the black market, meet consumer demand or make marijuana more accessible to people living in rural communities.
In other words, Arizona's legalization regime will be strictly controlled for the first five years if Prop 205 passes.
Prop 205 is sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which is also backing this year's initiatives in Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. But unlike in those states, Arizona's list of official supporters is short.
So far, Prop 205's most notable endorsers include Congressman Ruben Gallego (D), State Senator Martin Quezada (D) and a handful of local school board officials. Those officials say legalization will make Arizona safer and smarter because part of the tax revenue from recreational sales will go toward funding local schools.
“Proposition 205 would make a significant contribution," Buck Crouch - a local school board president - said in an official statement. "The projected estimate of $55-million for K-12 education annually would be very beneficial...But I am not supporting Proposition 205 because of the funding for education alone. I also believe that marijuana prohibition has made our state less safe, along the border and elsewhere. We need to end illegal sales of marijuana and have sales occur in tightly regulated - and taxpaying - businesses.”
In a separate statement, school board VP Devin Del Palacio added, "Let's take money away from the cartels and put it into classrooms."
Simply put, the opponents of Prop 205 outnumber and outrank the supporters. They include more federal legislators, more state legislators, more chambers of commerce, more mayors, more local city councillors and more Arizona organizations and businesses.
So things don't look good for Prop 205. But that's not a bad thing according to Amanda Reiman, the Marijuana Law and Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).
"Failure is progress," she told Civilized in a conversation about Prop 205. "As more states legalize, we'll see some states put forward initiatives that might not make it." But seeing those states - especially conservative districts like Arizona - take those chances is a positive development, she argue, because it means more people are willing to challenge prohibition.
The Bigger Picture
Ironically, legalization in Arizona could be a huge victory for America's War on Drugs.
“Arizona might be a unique situation because there’s so much cartel traffic going through there," Fox told Civilized.
"The people that you’re dealing with there aren’t always guys growing a couple plants in the backyard. You’re talking about trans-national drug trafficking organizations. It’s a gateway for the entire country. People in Indiana, Mississippi and elsewhere get their marijuana from people who were bringing it through Arizona."
And while Fox doesn't think you can ever shut down the black market completely, he says you can clean up the system and save lives by taking a bite out of a cartel's budget for bribing politicians and murdering cops.
"You’re never going to get rid of the black market completely. But you can significantly decrease their profits by regulating. Even if it’s not a sizeable percentage, it’s still less money for them to spend on buying high-powered assault rifles, or buying rocket launchers, or bribing politicians, or murdering cops. Any dollar you take away from them is a dollar they can’t use on their business.”