The legalization of recreational marijuana and a wealth tax to fund education proved to be overwhelmingly popular.
Arizona appears poised to approve the legalization of recreational marijuana and a new tax on high-earning residents that could bring in nearly $1 billion of new revenue annually to the state’s underfunded school system.
As of Friday morning, both ballot measures received the lion share of support from voters: Prop 207, legalizing marijuana, has received 1.8 million votes in support of it passing. Prop 208, known as the “Invest in Ed” initiative, has received 1.5 million votes in its favor.
Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s support among voters is similar to that of Prop 208 with 1.5 million votes. Mark Kelly, who has won his senate race against incumbent Sen. Martha McSally, has received slightly more support than Biden, but far less than Prop 207, with 1.6 million votes as of Friday.
Properly funding the state’s education and legalizing marijuana have both been met with opposition by Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature for years, which Rep. Reginald Bolding (D-Phoenix) says has masked how progressive Arizona truly is.
“We know Arizona is a place that is much more progressive than the Legislature, and that’s the reality,” Bolding told The Copper Courier. “Arizona has not only passed minimum wage, it has passed more funding to education, legalized marijuana, Medicaid expansion. We’ve seen things that Arizonans say we want and now it’s time for us to make sure that lawmakers actually listen to the people.”
The Smart and Safe Arizona Act
Proposition 207 allows adults 21 and older the right to possess an ounce of marijuana, although smoking it in public is forbidden. Money raised through an excise tax on sales will fund law enforcement and community colleges.
The measure also places a 16% excise tax on marijuana sales to fund public programs; give people convicted of low-level marijuana offenses a chance to clear their records; and provide guidelines to restrict children’s exposure to marijuana.
Supporters say the excise tax, which would be levied in addition to the state’s 9% sales tax, would generate $300 million to underfunded needs: public safety, public health programs, roads and highways, and community colleges.
“It will inevitably lower tuition,” said Stacy Pearson, campaign manager for YES207.
Proposition 207 would allow those convicted of certain marijuana-related crimes to request an expungement of their record starting in July 2021.
“Arizona’s war on drugs has failed and Arizona’s laws are behind the rest of the country,” Pearson said.
Although illegal under federal law in the United States, 11 states have legalized recreational marijuana. This year, South Dakota, Montana and New Jersey are voting on legalizing marijuana as well. Additionally, Mississippi is voting on two competing measures to legalize cannabis for medical purposes.
According to Smart and Safe Arizona, the leader of the campaign, Proposition 207 provides those who were previously convicted of low-level marijuana charges to have a second chance at life.
“I think it is high time for our state and the rest of the country to stop ruining people’s lives over victimless crimes,” said Adam Trenk, who specializes in cannabis law at Rose Law Group.
Smart and Safe Arizona’s website says the state’s marijuana laws disproportionately affect low-income residents and people of color. It’s a felony to possess any amount of marijuana in Arizona.
Proposition 207 would give the Department of Health Services the responsibility to regulate marijuana dispensaries. The proposition allocates millions of dollars annually for addiction treatments and other mental health issues related to drug use.
“Legalizing marijuana is safer than the black market,” Pearson said.
Proposition 207 would require all packaging of marijuana products, including edibles, to be childproof and labeled, and it would limit the level of THC – the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – in edibles. In addition, the measure would ban advertising to children and the sale of items that resemble those widely sold to children, such as gummy bears.
Arizonans for Health and Public Safety’s website warns that children will be harmed if they gain access to marijuana, and will be exposed to marijuana advertising on all platforms under the proposition’s language.
Opponents also are concerned about an increase of impaired drivers on the road.
“The standard of impairment law is eliminated in Prop 207,” Dahlgren said. “It is not replaced with anything else, which will make it harder to prosecute for DUIs.”
The proposition says the odor of marijuana will not be enough to constitute suspicion except for instances involving a driver. At present, there is no test to determine levels of THC in drivers. The proposition says health labs will be given funds to produce a test for THC impairment levels.
“It’s a valid concern that we don’t want impaired drivers on the road,” said Trenk, who argued that legalizing marijuana also will normalize it, leading more people to use it more responsibly.
“I don’t see that concern as a reason to not pass this law,” Trenk said.
The Invest in Education Act
The Invest in Education Act will impose an extra 3.5% tax on income above $250,000 for individuals and for couples making more than $500,000. Supporters have said it could raise about $940 million yearly.
The measure was an outgrowth of a 2018 teacher strike that gave teachers a 20% percent pay raise over three years but fell short of what strikers demanded.
They also wanted guaranteed pay raises, more money for support staff and a halt to Republican-backed tax cuts until Arizona school funding reached the national average.
Arizona’s K-12 public schools have been strapped for cash for more than a decade and have struggled to educate their 1.1 million students. Classes routinely have 30 students or more.
The approval of Proposition 208 came after the state’s business community spent millions trying to defeat the measure backed by many educators and progressive groups. They argued it would hurt the state’s economy.
“By voting Yes on 208, Arizona voters made it loud and clear they want teachers to be compensated properly and have the resources needed to successfully educate their students,” said Joe Thomas, President of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.