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Puff or Pass 

How Prop 205 stacks up against green-lit initiatives

Thousands of vehement voters received early ballots in the mail last week, marking the beginning of the Nov. 8 election, and perhaps the only question bigger than if the Trump brand train wreck is enough to turn Arizona blue is whether or not the state will turn green.

The Arizona Republic has already changed colors quicker than a chameleon on both accounts, releasing a historic endorsement in addition to a poll that showed 50 percent of Arizonans in support of marijuana legalization and only 40 percent opposed with 10 percent undecided.

To quell your concern over the prop's passage, let's see how Arizona's potential pot law stacks up against states that have already cashed the bowl on this cash crop.

For starters, Arizona's polls are only slightly behind Colorado and Washington just before legalization, and ahead of Oregon.

Both Colorado and Washington were polling at about 51 percent in favor of legalization leading up to their laws' passage, though about 15 percent of Coloradans were undecided compared to 7 percent of Washingtonians. In fact, the most recent polls before legalization for each state showed fewer than 50 percent in favor despite the laws' eventual green light.

An average of Oregon polls conducted prior to legalization show 48.6 percent in favor and 41.8 percent opposed with 9 percent undecided, more closely relating the apparent opinions of Arizonans.

Oregon's law passed with 56.11 percent voting yes, far beyond the polls' margin of error. Colorado's law passed with 55.32 percent in favor, and in Washington, 55.7 percent of voters passed the measure.

But Arizona is admittedly far more conservative than any of those states, which would make it the most Republican-controlled state to pass marijuana legalization. Our law is a bit different from other legalization laws around the country, too.

Arizona's pot tax would amount to a measly 15 percent compared to Oregon's 20 percent, and Colorado and Washington's 25 percent tax. Oregon is on track to collect $43 million in taxes from its first year of sales, while Washington posted $70 million in revenue and Colorado roped in $44 million in its first year.

Proponents of the Arizona law and the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimated that Arizona would be able to raise $123 million, but given the revenue generated in Washington, which most closely matches Arizona's population, the state could probably expect closer to $42 million in line with Oregon and Colorado.

Still, as more people become familiar with marijuana, that number could go up. Colorado collected more than $135 million from taxes and fees in 2015, closer to the Arizona JLBC estimate.

Opponents of Prop 205 who support legalization, but not this incarnation, take issue with several aspects of the bill, most notably employers' prerogative in firing marijuana users, the so-called "monopoly" of current dispensary owners, and the Marijuana Commission's oversight of marijuana accessories.

However, employers in all states are still allowed to fire people for using marijuana, even medical marijuana users who are legal now. This is a federal law issue and isn't specific to any state.

As far as the monopoly is concerned, Arizona currently has 130 licensed medical dispensaries and Prop 205 would add about 20 more with the option for expansion in 2021. This is far less than the other three states, but far from a monopoly.

Colorado has 453 retail marijuana stores and Oregon had 418 medical dispensaries at the beginning of 2016 and is expected to grant 850 licenses throughout the year.

Washington took a similar route as Arizona in fusing its medical and recreational marijuana markets. The state currently has more than 1,000 dispensaries, but caused some friction in allowing far fewer dispensaries to enter the new market than had existed in the medical market. Arizona won't have that problem.

Arizona is unique in its marijuana accessory regulation. Colorado is the only other state to set up a separate entity to handle marijuana regulation as Oregon and Washington integrated marijuana into their liquor control administrations. Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division does not regulate the sale of marijuana accessories.

All things considered, Arizona's law is fairly similar to laws that have passed in other states, and if those states' polls are in anyway indicative of those laws' passage, then we can look forward to a different kind of desert haze in the very near future.

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