With marijuana use becoming more accepted in the U.S. and the legalization of it in Washington and Colorado, it is only legal to 50,000 Arizona residents.
That could change in the years ahead.
The Marijuana Policy Project of Arizona is pushing for the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in 2016 to be voted on the next big election round.
In 2010, Arizona enacted the law to allow for medical marijuana. Two years later, the first dispensary opened in Phoenix. Arizona is one of the 24 states that allows for the medical usage of marijuana.
The qualifications to receive a medical card in Arizona are much stricter than California. A doctor’s recommendation will provide a medical marijuana card in California. Proof of a severe illness such as cancer, HIV, AIDS, glaucoma and so on is required to obtain a medical card in Arizona.
Although, the medical laws are starting to slowly change in regards to marijuana, the legal laws are not. The Arizona County Attorney and Sheriff’s Association opposes the legalization. It argues that marijuana is addictive, harmful to the adolescent brain, can lead to mental illnesses and risky behaviors.
Sgt. Chris Widmer of the Tucson Police Department states that law enforcement officials are still enforcing the same rules that they always have.
“I don’t believe that the attitude law enforcement officials have towards marijuana has changed much,” Widmer said. “The consequences of getting caught with it illegally are still the same as before.”
Widmer says that further decisions about the legalization of marijuana in Arizona depends on how the other states that legalize it handle it.
“We are seeing a lot of people abusing the medical card by selling or growing it, both which are felonies,” Widmer said.
Republican House Rep. Ethan Orr of Tucson is one of the first conservative lawmakers to side toward legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Arizona. He initially opposed the medical marijuana policy but had a change of heart once he saw first hand how marijuana helped people as they were fighting life threatening illnesses such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.
“I’m surprised by how little support I’ve been getting since I have stated that I want marijuana to be legalized in Arizona,” Orr said. “But it all comes down to do people want to fund the cartel or the state?”
Orr is talking to law enforcement officials in Colorado to see how they are handling the legalization of cannabis in their state. So far, it hasn’t led to any hardcore drugs and the use of it through youth has statistically gone down, he said.
“We have spent $75-$100 million specifically for marijuana arrests in Arizona,” Orr said. “The legalization would bring in $100 million for tax revenue which would help fund law enforcement and education.”
Orr says taxing and regulating marijuana would help to control the drug use.
The communications manager of the Marijuana Policy Project Morgan Fox believes the time has come for new law.
“ Once people see the failures of marijuana prohibition, and recognize that marijuana is far safer than alcohol, they are more open to having a conversation about how we can take this substance out of the hands of criminals and regulate it effectively without punishing responsible adults for using the safer substance,”Fox said.
In Arizona, getting caught with less than two pounds of marijuana results in a misdemeanor. Anything over two pounds is a felony. Intent to sell, traffic or manufacture are also felonies. Possession of marijuana in comparison to possession of narcotics (cocaine, heroin, opium, etc.) is a much lesser charge.
According to NORML
(the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), 30 percent of the U.S. population lives with some form of marijuana decriminalization. Through academic and government studies, it was found that these decriminalization laws have not contributed to a rise in the consumption of marijuana nor negatively affected teens attitudes towards drugs.
“As more states change their marijuana policies toward sensible regulation instead of prohibition, public support has been increasing nationally. A lot of this is due to the fact that we can look at the implementation of such policies in Colorado and Washington and see the benefits, as well as none of the things opponents tried to scare voters about coming to pass,” Fox said.
Tania Mashkoory is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News Service, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her at Tmash@email.arizona.edu