PHOENIX — A TV ad backing Arizona marijuana legalization features a Marine veteran saying cannabis saved him from post-traumatic stress disorder. In an opposition commercial, a former Colorado governor warns of the dangers of the legal drug, claiming that pot-laced candy is marketed to children.
The dueling ads come as voters consider a November ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana. Proposition 205 has drawn millions in donations, and polls show the race will be close.
It and another measure that would eventually increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour signal a changing electorate in a traditionally conservative state. But experts say it’s not surprising the initiatives made it onto the ballot considering voters approved medical marijuana in 2010 and a minimum wage increase in 2006.
More Arizona marijuana election news
Border war: Arizona marijuana legalization could upend years of drug smuggling
Big bucks: Is a maker of deadly painkillers bankrolling the opposition of Arizona marijuana legalization?
Know the issues: Definitive guide to marijuana on the 2016 ballot:
Weed news and interviews: Get podcasts of The Cannabist Show.
Subscribe to our newsletter here.
Watch The Cannabist Show.
Peruse our Cannabist-themed merchandise (T’s, hats, hoodies) at Cannabist Shop.
Here are some questions and answers about the propositions:
WHAT IS PROPOSITION 205?
It would make pot legal for adults 21 and older, allowing them to use, possess and grow up to an ounce of the drug. It would create a new state Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control with the authority to license and regulate marijuana. The department also would have an investigative team to keep tabs on pot shops. Marijuana stores could not open until March 2018, although it would be legal to possess pot as soon as election results are official.
WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO?
Sales of the drug would be taxed at 15 percent, generating $53.4 million in 2019 and $82 million in 2020 for the state, according to a report by the nonpartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee. Of that, $15.2 million will go to K-12 schools in 2019 for operating costs such as teacher pay, construction and maintenance. Another $15.2 million would fund full-day kindergarten, while $8.6 million would pay for the new regulatory department. An additional $7.6 million would be spent on public education campaigns about marijuana and other drugs.
WHAT DO SUPPORTERS SAY?
That legal marijuana would result in safer communities and more money for schools. They say it would eliminate the black market, weaken drug cartels and allow police to focus on more serious crimes. Legalization in states such as Colorado and Washington has already led to a drop in marijuana seizures along the border with Mexico, deputy campaign manager Carlos Alfaro says. The campaign also says minorities have been disproportionately jailed or fined for marijuana possession.
WHAT DO OPPONENTS SAY?
That legal pot would bring a host of problems, especially with public safety. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk says it would increase car accidents and make it difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs.
For example, Polk says police would have no way of knowing how much marijuana is being grown in a home because the smell would not be probable cause to search. She pointed to a major drug sting in Colorado in September that netted over 22,000 pounds of marijuana that a criminal organization planned to sell in other states.
Authorities along the border also believe that legalized pot will bolster drug cartels that smuggle tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana through Arizona each year.
WHO IS BEHIND THE CAMPAIGNS?
The Marijuana Policy Project is behind the legalization initiative and has largely funded the campaign, along with medical marijuana dispensaries.
A wide range of opponents have emerged, including a pharmaceutical company that makes a powerful opiate-based oral spray and is developing a synthetic version of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, local chambers of commerce and several businesses.
Discount Tire Co., which is locally owned, recently donated $1 million to fight legalization. Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who has funded anti-legalization campaigns in Florida, Nevada and Massachusetts, gave $500,000 last week. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey also objects to the measure and has raised money to oppose it.
The No on Prop 205 campaign has reported about $5.2 million in contributions, not including small donations since Sept. 19. Supporters of the measure have raised about $4.1 million, also not accounting for recent small donations.
Proposition 206 would take the hourly minimum wage from $8.05 to $12 by 2020 and require employers to pay sick time to employees. If approved, the base wage would rise to $10 an hour next year, then increase every year until 2020. The federal minimum is $7.25 per hour.
It also allows workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, depending on the size of the business, and broadens the conditions that allow for sick time to include mental or physical illness or needing to care for a family member.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee says it’s hard to determine the impact of a minimum wage increase, though many believe it will result in higher labor costs for Arizona businesses. The committee found that about 706,000 workers earned less than $12 in 2015.