Arizona voters may get a chance to legalize pot

State could regulate and tax it; issue may appear on 2014 ballot
2013-06-13T00:00:00Z 2013-06-13T08:14:10Z Arizona voters may get a chance to legalize potHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
June 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Voters who have seen how medical marijuana works in Arizona may get a chance to extend the ability to use the drug to all other adults.

Proponents of legalization filed the necessary paperwork Wednesday to start gathering the 259,213 signatures they need to put the issue of legalization on the 2014 ballot. They have through July 3, 2014.

The proposed constitutional amendment would do more than allow the possession of marijuana and its sale at retail outlets.

It also would alter drunk-driving laws so the mere presence of a metabolite of the drug in a motorist's system is not, by itself, proof the person was legally impaired. Instead, it would be one bit of evidence that could be offered - but legally insufficient without a video of any field-sobriety tests.

Robert Clark, chairman of the Safer Arizona Committee, which is pushing the measure, said this is particularly important, as metabolites of marijuana remain in the blood for a long period after someone has used it.

Dennis Bohlke, treasurer of the campaign, tried to put an initiative on the 2010 ballot to make the possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana a petty offense, punishable by only a $300 fine. But he gave up after his plan wound up in competition with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which eventually was approved by voters.

Under the new initiative, marijuana would be legal, and the only role of the state and local governments would be to regulate it, like alcohol, and tax it.

Although the medical marijuana initiative was approved by just a narrow margin and lost in 12 of the state's 15 counties, Bohlke said he believes the political climate had changed.

"Three years has made a big difference," he said, noting polls show more people support legalizing marijuana now than when he made his first proposal and that voters in Colorado and Washington have since made marijuana possession legal.

If the campaign is successful, the change in drunken-driving laws alone would be significant.

In a ruling earlier this year, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld laws that say the presence of any metabolite of marijuana in a motorist's blood, in any amount, is sufficient to sustain a charge of driving under the influence of drugs, a variant of state DUI laws, which Clark said is unfair.

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