The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
The 2016 ballot prop that would have legalized recreational marijuana failed, but that was a full three years ago and my, how things have changed. Well, it’s coming around again, but this time it’s not a question of yes or no, but a question of ballot prop or legislature.
In addition to the 33 states, including Arizona, that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, 11 states and the District of Columbia have now legalized recreational marijuana. All recreational laws have been by ballot prop with the exception of Illinois, where the law was changed by the legislature.
Such is the state of marijuana laws across the country, but what of Arizona? Our state has been targeted by members of the burgeoning nationwide marijuana industry for legalizing recreational marijuana via ballot prop. They are organized and well funded.
This has frightened a number of government officials — not so much that marijuana might be legal, but that it will be done by ballot prop. In fact, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has publicly called upon the legislature to draft legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana to derail the ballot initiative.
There are many reasons for putting lawmaking back in the hands of the legislature, not the least of which is the Voter Protection Act, which makes any law created by ballot prop repealable only by another ballot, and nearly impossible for the legislature to modify. Few laws are perfect out of the gate, and even those perfectly composed today will need modification over time with changing technology and cultural norms.
There is also the misconception that ballot props are the overwhelming will of the people taking form. The fact is that they are the tool of out-of-state corporate interests, as is this case with the current marijuana legalization effort, or out-of-state political activists like Tom Steyer of California who tried to force solar power on Arizona instead of letting it happen freely and organically.
It is true that we the people vote a ballot prop up or down, but do we really develop an in-depth understanding of the issue, or do we vote based on our favorite television ad or bumper sticker? Ballot props are a form of direct democracy, which itself is a form of mob rule.
Gov. Doug Ducey is personally not in favor of recreational marijuana. He was quoted as saying, “I don’t think any state ever got stronger by being stoned.” Well, OK, I don’t think that any state ever got stronger by being drunk either but I don’t want to bring back Prohibition.
Anyway, he did say that he would be open to a legislative alternative to the ballot prop. I think he wisely shares the concerns of Brnovich. I also think that both men know that the people do not find the legalization idea particularly objectionable. A telephone poll taken this year found 52% in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana.
Now, you know that something is virtually already legal when it is no longer seriously enforced, even with children. I used to live within two blocks of Rincon/University High Schools. Kids used to ebb and flow through the neighborhood openly smoking marijuana — even on their way to school.
I’m told it’s called “Wake and Bake”. They would deal from bushes at the edge of the campus. We reported all this to the school administrations (they would change periodically) and the news was always greeted with a yawn and no action.
Let’s be serious with our policy for a change. Recreational use of marijuana is effectively already legal. Let’s make it official, and let’s press our representatives in the legislature to compose the law, not out-of-state corporate interests.