Arizona: Marijuana Legalization Initiative Launched


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

An Arizona man has launched an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana for adults in the state.

Dennis Bohlke, 59, a north Phoenix computer programmer, is leading the Safer Arizona initiative, reports Yvonne Wingett Sanchez at The Republic. Bohlke said the measure is modeled after Colorado's newly enacted constitutional amendment, which taxes and regulates cannabis.

"The intent of the initiative is to legalize marijuana in Arizona and to treat it as we treat alcohol," Bohlke said.

The measure would amend Arizona's Constitution to allow people 18 and over (not 21 and over, as in Washington and Colorado) "to consume and possess limited amounts" of marijuana. The state would license grow facilities, retail marijuana stores and other related businesses.

The initiative needs 259,213 valid voter signatures by July 3, 2014, to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.

There is no major financial backing to fund signature gathering, according to Bohlke; that has been the death knell for efforts in other states including, most recently, Oregon's Measure 80. He acknowledged it will be "challenging" to gather the necessary signatures to qualiy for the ballot without major funding.

Bolhlke said he had spoken with Republican, "Tea Party" and Democratic lawmakers about the measure, and while they won't openly support him, they seemed "very receptive" to his initiative.

Law enforcement groups and prosecutors are expected to mount a strong opposition campaign in Arizona.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who has made his opposition to marijuana a signature issue, said any effort to legalize cannabis "even through the initiative process, would run afoul of the same supremacy clause issues that Arizona's medical-marijuana program faces."

But the proposed initiative "makes sure the state wouldn't waste any more money arresting people for using a substance that's objectively safer than alcohol and tobacco," said Karen O'Keefe of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), based in Washington, D.C.

"It would also allow the state to regulate and control the industry and to generate substantial revenue" benefiting Arizona residents "instead of drug dealers," O'Keefe said.

Bohlke said his past marijuana-related brushes with the law are what motives his effort to legalize. He was arrested twice in 2010 in Scottsdale on pot-related charges.

"It's a very bad thing for people to get arrested for marijuana -- especially for young people going to college and going to school," Bohlke said. "It has a very bad impact on their life and I just think it's time that we do something about it."

Arizona voters in 2010 approved medical marijuana for conditions such as cancer and chronic pain. More than 35,000 state residents have enrolled in the Department of Health Services-overseen program.