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I’m proud to be the only candidate for Governor of Arizona who has outlined a smart approach to cannabis legalization. Cannabis has the potential to bring many benefits to Arizona, including:
Thousands of jobs with good pay
Positive social reform
More effective use of our law enforcement and judicial resources
It is essential that Arizona become a national leader in the cannabis industry to maximize all of these benefits.
What is Cannabis?
Cannabis is a genus of plant that has many purposes including fibers, oils, medicine, and as a recreational drug. It is most famous for the latter 2 uses, and in those contexts, it has over 1200 alternative names, such as marijuana. For industrial purposes, it frequently goes by the name hemp.
This policy is about the psychoactive uses of the cannabis flower and also the industrial uses of the rest of the cannabis plant. As some names for cannabis are known to cause fear or misunderstanding, I will only use the term cannabis.
The Truth About Cannabis
I have never smoked cannabis, vaped, eaten, or otherwise used cannabis products with psychoactive properties, so I cannot speak about the effects of cannabis from personal experience. However, I have read books and studies about cannabis, and I have a very firm understanding of the plant itself and the culture surrounding it. My views on cannabis are derived not from love or hate of the plant itself, nor are they a matter of political expediency. Rather, I’ve simply sought to understand the facts and craft policy that aligns with truth.
Effective cannabis policy begins by recognizing that much of what we were taught growing up is simply not true.
Cannabis use does not significantly increase the likelihood of using harder drugs.
Cannabis is not addictive to most people.
People don’t lethally overdose on cannabis.
Cannabis has less adverse effects than alcohol and many prescription medications, and use of cannabis can frequently lower dependence on more dangerous alternatives.
In addition to medicinal and recreational purposes, the cannabis plant has many industrial uses. Cannabis can be used to make paper, clothing, building materials, plastic alternatives, and much more. In many cases, the cultivation of cannabis is less expensive and yields more than the prevailing competitive crop (e.g. cotton, various softwoods).
In short, the cannabis plant poses very little danger to society and offers significant benefits. Legalizing the production and distribution of cannabis and its derivatives for all of these purposes will be an immense blessing to Arizonans.
By legalizing cannabis for all purposes, total annual sales of cannabis and hemp products will be $2-3 billion in Arizona. That’s growth of about 1% of the whole economy. That may not sound like much, but remember that the economy as a whole grew about 2% in all of 2016.
In other words, legalizing cannabis would accelerate the annual growth rate of the economy by about 50% in the year implemented.
If every person working in the cannabis industry made exactly $1 million dollars, this change would create 2-3 thousand new millionaires. While better than not legalizing cannabis, I would consider that a poor outcome because the financial benefits of cannabis are not being enjoyed by enough Arizonans.
Alternatively, if everyone working in the cannabis industry made minimum wage, that would be around 100,000 new minimum wage jobs. I would consider this a similarly poor outcome because it doesn’t raise the standard of living for Arizonans.
However, assuming some people will make great fortunes and other people will work in the industry at jobs that pay minimum wage, legalizing cannabis will create about 50,000 new jobs with a good wage. This is the most likely outcome and one that I consider to be very beneficial for Arizonans.
Arizona already thrives from a vibrant tourism industry due to our excellent climate and relaxed social atmosphere. Legalizing cannabis only increases our tourism advantages. Organizations will be attracted to host their conventions, conferences, and expos in our great state. It will also increase our appeal to the individual and family travelers.
The impact of this increased tourism appeal on tax revenue and economic growth is difficult to project, but it’s fair to say it will bring millions if not billions of additional dollars into our communities.
At the standard 5.6% state sales tax, cannabis sales would result in $112-168 million in tax revenue for the state.
I do not think it is wise to implement a vice tax on cannabis. Colorado taxes cannabis at 15%. In California, city, county, and state taxes combine to create tax rates of up to 80%. While these high rates do increase tax revenue, they can inflate the cost of cannabis so high that it keeps the demand for a black market in place. However, if there is broad support for higher tax rates, I will support them. At 15%, Arizona could expect to collect up to $450 million.
These figures do not include the increases in income tax collections because of new jobs, or the increase in sales taxes collected due to tourism.
Because the federal government continues the irrational policy of treating cannabis as an illegal drug, banks are reluctant to provide services to cannabis-related businesses even in states that have legalized it. This is because the federal government threatens to treat bankers as though they are cooperating with money launderers if they work with cannabis businesses.
Historically, states in which cannabis is legal have considered 3 options
Lobby the federal government to change cannabis and banking laws to resolve the conflict. States in which cannabis is legal are already doing this, and Arizona legislators should join this fight, even prior to successful legislation to make cannabis legal.
Leave their cannabis-related businesses to fend for themselves, which often means they go without banking services. Since this means dealing in cash, this significantly increases such problems as armed robbery, embezzlement, and tax evasion.
Ask banks to break federal laws in order to protect their cannabis-related clients. This opens these banks and their clients up to prosecution and asset seizure.
It is unfair to ask individual bankers or cannabis entrepreneurs to face the federal government alone. In defying the federal government by legalizing cannabis, the state as a whole is in the best position to fix the banking situation by defying government again. Specifically, I advocate creating a state-sponsored system of intrastate banks and/or credit unions that do not rely on the FDIC or NCUA.
With the backing of the state, this alternative banking network would enjoy high adoption and stability, while protecting customers from federal overreach.
Of course, the federal government should just stop persecuting cannabis businesses, users, and the states they live in. This would end the need for states to defy the federal government in order to guarantee their residents the American ideals of justice and freedom.
Personal and Parental Responsibility
As with nearly anything, cannabis can have adverse consequences when over-consumed or abused. The same is true of cars, alcohol, tobacco, medicine, guns, fast food, and many other goods.
As a society, we evaluate the potential for abuse of each of any given product and create an appropriate strategy to minimize the potential for societal harm while maximizing personal freedom. Those strategies include:
Making a product completely illegal when we determine it has no positive benefit. (e.g. meth)
Limiting sale of a product only to those with specific needs as certified by a professional or government entity (e.g. prescription drugs)
Requiring a license for a product when we think someone should demonstrate proficiency before engaging in use. (e.g. cars)
Setting a minimum legal age when we believe that most people will be able to make responsible choices regarding the product if they mature normally. (e.g. alcohol)
Not setting any legal restrictions on the product, but relying on sellers, buyers, parents, and the community to teach responsible use and self-control (e.g. junk food)
Arizonans are ready for a law that does not put restrictions on cannabis distribution and prohibits consumption of cannabis only until the age of 18.
Law Enforcement and Judicial Resources
Law enforcement agencies are pressured to spend too much time stopping, frisking, confiscating, citing, arresting, incarcerating, impounding, testifying, and otherwise enforcing cannabis laws that do not make our community any safer or freer.
Police officers do not join the force to persecute people who use or sell cannabis. They join to serve their communities by preventing and investigating property crimes and violence. By making cannabis legal, officers will be able to focus their efforts on these important issues that really do make our communities better.
Similarly, corrections officers are not passionate about watching over people who have never hurt anyone or deprived them of property. Rather, they want to keep society safe from people who present a clear threat to a free, orderly society. Cannabis legalization will allow them to use their time with inmates who pose a clear danger to society. It will also substantially reduce the prison population, which will reduce the number of guards needed. This will allow the Department of Corrections to pay their officers a respectable wage.
Freed from their unnecessary cannabis caseloads, judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers can focus on serious crimes that have victims. States and localities may be able to reduce the budgets of these departments and use the funds on activities that create greater security and opportunity.
Cannabis use will also be removed as a consideration for joining and remaining employed in law enforcement and legal professions.
Child Protective Services
Cannabis usage has historically been a factor in considering whether or not to remove a child from the home of their biological parents. Removing children from their homes is never easy, and we are grateful for the social workers who work with families and have the responsibility for making difficult calls about the best interest of the children. By removing cannabis usage as a consideration for rehoming a child, social workers can focus exclusively on the relationships between parents and children, resulting in the most just decisions possible, and likely more children staying with their biological parents.
Crime After Cannabis Legalization
Before we undertake any discussion on crime statistics after cannabis legalization, we must understand one big thing. By conservative estimates, many police officers spend about 20% of their time on activities related to cannabis enforcement. When cannabis is legalized, police do not simply stop working those hours. Rather they enforce other laws (theoretically more important laws). Therefore, we would expect to see some lift in non-cannabis crime statistics after cannabis legalization, even if the underlying behavior of society is not significantly changed or even improved.
What have we seen in other states where cannabis is legal?
Teen cannabis usage trends do not change
Traffic fatalities do not go up overall
Violent crime rates remain steady or fall
Property crimes remain steady or fall
But I heard violent crime is up and traffic fatalities are up in Colorado!
The Denver District Attorney shared some bad statistics during the 2016 election cycle that served to misinform people.
First, he looked a small segment of Colorado communities where crime did go up. The police departments in these communities did not attribute the increase to cannabis, but that didn’t stop the DA from making the claim. Also, while crime in a few areas went up because of random statistical fluctuation, crime across the state as a whole did not go up.
Second, everything that happens in states where cannabis is legal, is happening with a higher percentage of the population using cannabis. Therefore, while the rate of criminal activity hasn’t changed, the amount of criminal activity in which people test positive for cannabis has gone up.
This is a fancy way of saying that after cannabis legalization people basically behave the same as before legalization. The rate at which people break the law does not go up. People who do break the law are more likely to have consumed cannabis within a few months, which is enough to test positive. By the same token, legalizing cannabis does not create some kind of utopian community where everything is peace and love. After cannabis is legalized, people will continue to be people, just with more freedom.
No one should drive a car if they have significantly impaired judgment, motor control, or reaction time. Because many chemicals are known to affect these abilities, Arizona has responded by creating Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws.
There are many flaws in these laws. Some of the biggest problems with the laws in this statute are:
They create exceptions for big pharma substances that are known to significantly impair driving ability, no matter their concentration in the bloodstream.
They establish automatic guilt for trace amounts of many substances even when no impairment is evident.
They establish fines that are insignificant to the wealthy, but overly burdensome to the poor.
In the case of cannabis, driving impairment lasts only a few hours, but the ability to detect cannabis usage with a urinalysis can last several months. The current law makes no distinction between the person who consumed cannabis 30 minutes ago and the person who consumed cannabis as many as 3 months ago.
I propose improving this law by making the following 3 changes:
Eliminating any language that automatically assumes impairment based on drug tests. Drug tests are evidence of impairment, but not conclusive evidence. They should be taken into consideration by prosecutors when deciding to press charges, but they should not be the only consideration.
Eliminating automatic exceptions for any substance, including substances prescribed by a doctor. If the drug your doctor prescribes you impairs your ability to drive, you should not drive until the impairment passes.
Establishing fines based on net worth and income, such that the rich and poor have equal incentive to make responsible decisions when driving.
Additionally, we will seek to make sure that police officers have no incentive or opportunity to arrest people who are not impaired. We will eliminate DUI checkpoints and only allow officers to pull over drivers for probable cause based on observed behavior that suggests impairment. Also, we will develop a roadside test for impairment that can be administered by police officers regardless of the substance a person may have consumed. Arrests, vehicle impounding, and other steps may only be taken when people fail these tests.
Community Appearance and Courtesy
Smoking cannabis has some of the same negative social features as smoking tobacco. Namely, it has an odor that many people find unpleasant and it creates butts that can lead to unsightly litter if not properly disposed of.
For this reason, all state and local ordinances regarding smoking will apply immediately to smoking cannabis. Similarly, landlords, hospitality businesses, and property owners generally will remain free to regulate smoking on their properties.
In localities where vaping and smoking are regulated separately, cannabis consumption will be regulated by the same standard (e.g. vaping cannabis will be regulated like vaping nicotine, and smoking cannabis will be regulated like smoking tobacco).
No locality, landlord, hospitality company, or other property owner shall make or enforce policies with the design or effect of treating cannabis differently than tobacco.
Cannabis is used regularly by capable professionals, talented creatives, stay-at-home moms, veterans, blue-collar workers, and others from all walks of life. For some people, it is a medical boon. For others, it is a source of relaxation and inspiration.
Regardless of the purpose, treating cannabis like what it is, a plant, will lead to more positive interactions and outcomes for society. We will reduce the impact of illegal drug trafficking. We will embrace those in our society who have previously been rejected or marginalized for cannabis use. We will invite people to be honest, rather than pretending like they have some chronic ailment just so they can get a medical card.
When we confront and embrace reality, we give ourselves the data and insight we need to accept our social norms as they are, or change them through appropriate legislation in hopes of achieving better outcomes. When it comes to cannabis, I am confident we can do better for Arizonans.
Let’s Do This
Arizonans are ready to enjoy their freedom, unburden the legal system, and grow the economy by enacting a common sense cannabis policy. As your next Governor, I’m committed to fighting for these reforms on your behalf!
If you want to make sure Arizona has a common sense cannabis policy going forward, there are 2 things you can do to make sure that happens:
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