Image: Daniel Oberhaus
For those of us who find ourselves in Arizona, two of the biggest issues on the ballot this year are whether to re-elect our racist sheriff Joe Arpaio, and legalizing recreational pot. Considering that Arpaio has made a name for himself waging a war on drugs (he literally has a 'War on Drugs' tank), if Arizona votes yes on Proposition 205, it may be possible to kill two birds with one stone.If Prop 205 passes, it would legalize the possession and use of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults over the age of 21, as well as the ability to grow up to six marijuana plants in a household.
The passage of 205 would also establish the Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control, a state agency that would regulate everything from the testing to the sale of recreational marijuana in the state. This new department would be funded by the 15 percent tax on all recreational marijuana sales, which would also be divvied up among the Department of Health Services and Arizona's school districts.
Arizona has a particularly complicated history with legal marijuana. In 1996, voters passed Proposition 200 which legalized medical marijuana for the first time in the state. They then passed another bill legalizing medical marijuana in 1998. In both cases, the vote was contested due to the wording of the bills, which allowed doctors to "prescribe" rather than "recommend" marijuana to patients (only FDA approved medicines can be prescribed). In 2010, Arizonans managed to secure their legal right to medicinal marijuana once and for all, albeit by an incredibly small margin: about 4000 votes.For Seth Leibsohn, the co-founder of the anti-Prop 205 group Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy and chair of the prominent Arizona anti-drug group Not My Kid, keeping recreational pot out of Arizona is necessary to keep it out the hands of teenagers. He takes particular issue with the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, one of the major supporters of Prop 205, on the grounds that alcohol use is already a problem in the state.
"There's a reason that 74 percent of Arizona's youth use alcohol in greater numbers than they use marijuana—because it's available," Leibsohn told Motherboard. "If we want to release a substance abuse problem in Arizona, [Prop 205] is the way to do it. That's why the comparison to alcohol doesn't work for us: we have enough problems already."Nevertheless, there are also a number of strong supporters for Yes on 205, including the entire Arizona Democratic Party, which recently officially endorsed the campaign."The Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Initiative, fixes a lot of the issues prohibition has caused," Arizona Democratic Party Chair Alexis Tameron said in a statement. "Our resources will be better spent addressing serious crime, instead of damaging the lives of countless Arizonans, specifically people of color, as our government tries to prosecute them for possession."The "serious crime" aspect of legalization was also raised by Leibsohn, who worries about increased cartel activity in the state post-legalization.Leibsohn's fears are largely based on the story of a Colombian man who was arrested for running an illegal cannabis operation in Colorado after pot was legalized. Although this is a big extrapolation from a single data point, Arizona has particularly struggled with drug-related cartel violence on its border with Mexico. Even though the amount of marijuana seized at the Arizona border dropped dramatically after legalizing medical pot in 2010, Leibsohn maintains that this has just encouraged the cartels to bring in harder drugs."There is now a growing body of evidence that the drug cartels, particularly the Sinaloa cartels in Mexico, have increased their exportation of heroin and opioids into the US," said Leibsohn. "So we can thank the Marijuana Policy Project for that problem."Despite Leibsohn's doubts, Arizonans have consistently been polling in favor of marijuana legalization, albeit by a small margin. The latest poll on the issue has found that 50 percent of Arizona voters are in favor of Prop 205, 42 percent oppose it and 8 percent are undecided.Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.