Dreams of Legalization

Safer Arizona is aiming to put an initiative in front of the voters to bring Colorado-style legalization to our state

I don't know if you heard about it or not, but there's a state near here where any adult can now buy weed legally. Colorado.

The shops are open and the shoppers are shopping and the money is rolling into store and state coffers—more than $1 million in sales the first day alone, and there are only a few dozen stores. People are smiling in Colorado—cannabis users, store owners and tax collectors. I'm sure there have been some problems. Police issued a few citations for public use the first day, but I don't think a single child has died from a cannabis overdose. Generally, the mood in Colorado seems to be giddy.

Tucsonan Bob Clark wants to create that here via Safer Arizona, a drive to put a legalization voter initiative on the November ballot. His proposal would allow sales to any adult, eliminate the statute that allows DUI for cannabis metabolites and allow any adult to grow 12 plants. I wrote about Safer Arizona last year, when it seemed unlikely to me that it would pass. I've spent a fair amount of time around politics, and it just seemed like too hard a sell for Arizona's Teabilly leaners. Now I'm not so sure.

Since last year, the number of Americans who favor legalization has neared 60 percent, a jump of about 12 percent over previous polls. Even in Arizona, according to a poll by Phoenix-based Behavioral Research Center, 56 percent of residents now think it should be legal, up from the 50.13 percent who passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act in 2010.

And this attempt will happen in a new federal atmosphere. Last summer, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder agreed to lay off states that legalize. The feds have stood by and watched as Colorado and Washington ramped up. They didn't say a word. So Gov. Jan's fear-mongering about federal crackdowns in Arizona is completely unfounded. Even the Treasury Department said it will give banks leeway to deal with cannabis businesses. Until now banks have shied away because, technically under federal law, taking their deposits is money-laundering. That makes it very hard for cannabis businesses to function.

To get on the ballot, Safer Arizona needs slightly more than 259,000 signatures of registered voters by July 3. So far, they've notarized about 10 percent of that, but things are ramping up significantly. Petitions representing about 70 percent of the signature total are out on the streets, and more people are coming onboard to help.

"Our volunteer base is growing," Clark said.

Safer Arizona is also backing a legislative legalization effort by state Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Phoenix Democrat. His bill, which had yet to be introduced as of press time, seems doomed to fail. Gallego plans to introduce the bill to the Health and Human Services Committee, on which Republicans hold a 2-1 advantage. Their ranks include Kimberly Yee, a known cannabis hater who has tried to gum up the medical cannabis works in our great state. So I wish Gallego well, but it seems unlikely this year.

Clark is also working with Tucson City Council members—largely Paul Cunningham from Ward 2 and Karin Uhlich from Ward 3—to draft a "prioritization ordinance" that would halt or dramatically slow Tucson police arrests for small amounts of marijuana. Police have better things to do, Clark believes. I agree. Props to Uhlich and Cunningham for backing this measure. Call your council member and urge support for it.

So last year, I pretty much thought Safer Arizona was doomed. I thought it was too steep a climb and that the collective ignorance of Arizona would prevail. This year, I've changed my mind. I think it could squeak past, just the way the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act did. It will never pass in a landslide, but who needs that? All we need is one vote more than half.

And then we can be all giddy like they are in Colorado.

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