Legal pot in AZ: Potential reality or reaching? - Tucson News Now

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Legal pot in AZ: Potential reality or reaching?

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

It has been more than a year since the first medical marijuana dispensary opened up shop in Arizona.

Today, there are nearly 80 of them in operation statewide.

And, we're reportedly near the top of about 13 states where efforts are currently underway to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

"On June 11 last year, we filed with the Secretary of State an initiative to get on the ballot a tax and regulate initiative, much like Colorado's," said Dennis Bohlke, treasurer for Safer Arizona.

Safer Arizona, the political action committee behind an effort to legalize recreational marijuana use, hoped to get its initiative on the November 2014 ballot. But hasn't been able to gather nearly enough signatures in its grassroots effort.

"Frankly, it doesn't look like we're going to succeed in getting on the ballot this time," Bohlke conceded.

But, he says it will happen eventually, pointing out the Behavior Research Center's recent Rocky Mountain Poll that shows 51 percent of Arizonans support legalizing marijuana.

"It certainly isn't as dangerous as alcohol," said Bohlke. "And, alcohol is part of our society and alcohol is a poison."

Those who oppose legalizing marijuana point out that two wrongs don't make a right.

"We've got a lot of problems with alcohol," said Shelly Mowrey director of Prevention Works AZ. "We have violence; we have DUI. But, I'm not of the belief that if the right arm is broke you break the left arm just for consistency."

Mowrey also argues any potential tax collection from the sale of marijuana isn't worth it.

"Just take alcohol tax for example," she said. "DUIs, healthcare costs, work costs – all of the societal costs associated with that costs 10 dollars for every dollar you get in taxes. So, the taxes pale in comparison to the societal impact."

Mowrey said legalization of pot would also result in another "big tobacco" targeting kids.

"What legalization of marijuana will do is create the commercialization of that industry whose only for-profit motive is to hook new users," she explained.

So far this year the Arizona legislature is not backing recreational marijuana.

The house has already killed two pot-related bills.

HB 2558 would've provided a tax and regulate system for users 21 and older.

HB 2474 would've decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug.

"We see the problem as a political issue," said Bohlke. "And, there's an election coming up in November. And, we're working to help the opponents of our opponents."

The Marijuana Policy Project, a national organization, has said it plans to start collecting signatures in 2015 in order to get a tax and regulate initiative on the Arizona ballot in 2016 – eyeing a larger voter turnout for the general election.

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