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Should Arizona voters legalize recreational marijuana?

Posted at 10:13 PM, Oct 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-05 13:16:02-04
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The debate over legalizing recreational marijuana in Arizona has both sides pointing to Colorado. 
 
"The drug dealers are benefiting, the schools are hurting, public safety is hurting, Colorado is hurting," said Governor Doug Ducey. "We don't want that hurt in the state of Arizona."
 
"A good example is Colorado. Last year they made a billion dollars in legal sales. That's a billion dollars that's not going to the underground market," said Carlos Alfaro with the YES on Prop. 205 campaign.
 
Proposition 205 would allow adults 21 years and older to have up to one ounce of recreational marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants. The newly created Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control would regulate the cannabis industry. That department would include a seven-member board appointed by the governor.
 
Retail marijuana sales would include a 15% tax, and marijuana-related businesses would pay licensing fees. 
 
Smoking marijuana would not be allowed in public, and you could face a $300 fine if caught. Driving while high would be illegal.
 
As we get closer to election day, both sides have been ramping up efforts to sway voters with TV ads. Both are using Colorado as an example.
 
How much money have Colorado schools made from pot sales? 
 
According to the Colorado Department of Education this fiscal year it received about $54 million from marijuana revenues, a fraction of the department's $5.4 billion budget. The first $40 million is earmarked for school construction projects, which each district has to individually apply for.
 
What about Denver Public Schools? The anti-legalization ads say the district hasn't gotten anything. 
 
"Colorado schools were promised millions in new revenues. Instead, Denver schools got nothing," said the No on Prop. 205 ad.
 
KGUN9 reached out to the district for clarification. While Denver Public Schools didn't apply for grants for state marijuana money, the district took in in between $200,000 and $300,000 from a city marijuana tax last year.
 
Mark Ferrandino, the chief financial officer with Denver Public Schools, says the district has more than 90,000 students and over 150 campuses. Ferranindo says since legalization, the district has not noticed any significant changes from a financial standpoint or in terms of student behavior.
 
How much money would Arizona schools get?
 
According to Proposition 205, the money made from marijuana sales would pay for the expenses tied to the state's marijuana department. About 80% of the money that is left over would go to Arizona schools, weighted based on the number of students. Half of it would be used for education-related expenses like construction and teacher pay. The other half would pay for full-day kindergarten.
 
The remaining 20% would go to the Arizona Department of Health Services for public education campaigns to prevent substance abuse.
 
Pro-legalization ads cite an analysis by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. It found that the taxes and licensing fees would generate $54.5 million in fiscal year 2019, and $82 million in 2020. That would mean an estimated $55 million for Arizona schools in 2020. 
 
Critics of Prop. 205 say that it's a drop in the budget to the state's roughly $5 billion education budget. The unintended costs of legalization do not outweigh the potential benefits, opponents say. 
 
"What did Denver schools get? Marijuana. In edibles that look like candy, marketed to kids," said a NO on Prop. 205 ad.
 
Under Proposition 205, kids would not be allowed to legally buy marijuana, but there is concern they could get sick from edibles that are packaged like candy. Post-legalization studies have shown an increase in emergency room visits for kids accidentally exposed to pot. Since then Colorado has made stricter packaging laws. 
 
"We are three years into this, and we still haven't solved the problem of marijuana candy," said Rachel O'Bryan, a co-founder of Smart Colorado
 
"It may be small numbers, but is one child too many, is 50 children too many? What is the number that makes this unacceptable? Especially when it's invisible and in their favorite product," O'Bryan said. 
 
Proposition 205 calls for specific packaging requirements including child-resistant packaging, warning labels, and markings that indicate the amount of THC in marijuana products.
 
Aari Ruben operates the Desert Bloom Re-leaf Center in Tucson. He has donated money to the Yes on Prop. 205 campaign, and believes drugs should be treated as a health issue not a criminal issue.
 
The cultivation site for the center houses thousands of marijuana plants and provides medical marijuana for about 1,500 people a month.
 
"It will open up a large new market if Prop. 205 passes," Ruben said. "The medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to convert into the new recreational licensure. That will afford 8 to ten times as many consumers."
 
Opponents argue Prop. 205 sets up a monopoly for existing medical dispensaries, and that the initiative only benefits the people who are in the marijuana industry. The YES on Prop. 205 campaign has largely been funded by the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization out of Washington, D.C.
 
However Prop. 205 supporters say there is money motivations on both sides. 
 
Insys Therapeutics, Inc. is a Chandler-based pharmaceutical company that donated $500,000 to anti-legalization efforts. The company produces a form of fentanyl, which is a powerful opioid up to 50 times as potent as heroin. The company now plans on making a synthetic cannabis product.
 
"They have profits behind it, and their profits are being threatened by marijuana legalization. They no longer have the argument that this is the better for Arizona, when they are getting half a million contribution from big pharma," Alfaro said. 
 
"We're going to accept resources that help us communicate with voters. Now we have businesses across the state that are helping because they know it's bad for our economy. They know It's bad for our kids," Ducey said. 
 
Governor Ducey has come out in strong opposition of Prop. 205, and has been rallying people across the state to vote against it.

Law enforcement agencies in Arizona have concerns about legalization and the legal impacts of marijuana legalization. 

While drugged driving would be illegal under Prop. 205, the measure does not address how officers would determine if a driver is high and there are no limits given.

The Colorado Department of Transportation says that  "drivers with five nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their whole blood can be prosecuted for driving under the influence (DUI)." However, Colorado officers can make arrests based on your behavior, regardless of your THC levels.

While both sides are using Colorado as an example, a recent report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety says it's still too early to tell the potential effects of marijuana legalization. It may always be difficult because of the lack of historical data, researchers say.

If Prop. 205 is passed, it would not go into effect until September 1, 2018.