In late 2016, Arizona will join the ranks of the 23 states – along with Washington DC – that have legalized marijuana. At present, it isn’t yet clear how state lawmakers will implement marijuana legalization and how its sale and taxation will be regulated.
Many of the policies regarding marijuana legalization will be dependent on the majority Republican faction that currently holds sway over the Legislature. It’s too early to know for sure, but there are indications that legalization will be implemented by way of a statewide initiative.
Republics could work with Democrats
Another scenario is that Republicans may actually work with Democrats in a joint motion that will finally legalize marijuana in the state. For some political analysts and observers, this latter scenario is far more likely, given the traditional Republican aversion to initiatives.
This theory seems to be supported by the reluctance of Republican lawmakers to pay for educational funding, which was passed on the basis of a statewide initiative. If that is the case and marijuana is indeed legalized on the strength of a public vote, Arizona lawmakers will not have an easy means to revise the legalization law once it comes into effect.
The less likely scenario is that Republicans will support suggestions made by several Democrats, among them Rep. Mark Cardenas. For Cardenas and other Democrats, the way forward is to simply pass a law that will effectively legalize small quantities of marijuana. If this course of action pushes through, there will be no need for a marijuana legalization initiative. Perhaps more importantly, such an action will also provide lawmakers with more control over the legalization of marijuana in the state.
Democrats propose legalization of purchase, possession and consumption
Rep. Cardenas proposes that the purchase, possession and consumption of marijuana be legalized for adults over the age of 21 in amounts of up to an ounce. This will mirror the marijuana laws currently implemented in many other states. If passed, this law will essentially regulate the activities of dispensaries as well as cultivation and the personal use of marijuana in the state. If things go the other way and legalization is passed on the basis of an initiative, however, these control measures will not be an option.
The measure proposed by Rep. Cardenas will give lawmakers more leeway with regard to marijuana regulation. With such a measure, lawmakers will be able to address what Cardenas referred to as ‘unforeseen consequences’, and revisit the law and revise it as needed over the following years.
In a poll conducted by the Behavior Research Center Rocky Mountain recently, it was found that 51% of adults in Arizona supported marijuana legalization. For many, this is seen as a widespread change in attitudes and perceptions towards marijuana use. There are also those who suggest that the growing support for legalization is a sign of the changing economic landscape in the state.
Regardless of which course of action Arizona lawmakers ultimately choose to follow, some things are certain: they will have to come to terms with the fact that marijuana is big business, and that those who support legalization have the necessary financial clout.