By Felicia Fonseca & Bob Christie, Associated Press
(AP) — Arizona joined states across the nation that have legalized recreational marijuana in a repudiation of its Republican leadership. Arizonans voted 60% to 40% to pass Prop 207. Another ballot measure proposing a new tax on the wealthy to fund education was too early to call.
Approval of the marijuana measure, Proposition 207, came four years after voters narrowly defeated a recreational pot legalization proposal. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and fellow Republicans in the Legislature had refused to change Arizona’s tough marijuana laws.
“This shows they’ve been out of step on this issue in two ways in terms of people’s opinions about the product itself and the personal use of this product and, secondly, just the need for criminal justice reform in Arizona,” said Chad Campbell, chairman of the committee that backed the measure.
Recreational marijuana will become legal in the state when election results are certified in about a month.
Retail sales could start in May and people will be allowed to grow their own plants. People 21 and older can possess up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana or a smaller quantity of “concentrates” such as hashish.
The Smart and Safe Arizona Act levies a 16% excise tax on pot and could bring in an estimated $255 million in new revenue annually when combined with sales tax, according to legislative analysts.
The money will fund community colleges, police and fire agencies, transportation projects, and public health and criminal justice programs.
Supporters argued it was time to rescind Arizona’s punitive penalties on marijuana, ensure quality control through state testing, and decrease crime associated with smuggling and illicit sales.
Opponents said legalization will make workplaces less safe, increase teen drug use and fill roads with stoned drivers. The opposition included many of Arizona’s Republican elected officials, including Ducey, and conservative groups.
Flagstaff resident Chris Nylen said her support for the measure evolved as she saw her dog’s arthritis and anxiety ease because of CBD pills prescribed by a veterinarian.
“I personally don’t have a desire for it, but (I’m) seeing the benefits for my dog,” she said.
The second Arizona ballot measure, Proposition 208, was too early to call because not enough votes have been counted. It is designed to boost pay for teachers and support staff, fund teacher training and education, and increase career and technical education.
The additional 3.5% tax would be levied on income above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples. The new tax would cost the average taxpayer earning between $500,000 and $1 million an extra $5,459 yearly, analysts said.
The Invest in Education Act is the latest outgrowth from a statewide teacher strike two years ago that highlighted low wages for educators and a slow rebound from budget cuts enacted after the Great Recession.
Opponents have said it would bring only partial relief for cash-strapped schools and hurt the economy, particularly small businesses.
Supporters have said it could raise about $940 million a year for schools, although the Legislature’s budget analysts estimated it would bring in $827 million a year.
The Legislature has pumped significant cash into schools in recent years, including a 20% percent pay raise over three years that was prompted by the strike.
But schools were never repaid billions they lost in cuts over the past decade and Arizona’s teachers remain among the lowest-paid in the nation.