Pubdate: Thu, 13 Jun 2013
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2013 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez


A north Phoenix man has launched an initiative to legalize marijuana 
for recreational use in Arizona.

Dennis Bohlke, the 59-yearold computer programmer who is leading the 
effort, said the Safer Arizona initiative is modeled after Colorado's 
newly enacted law, which taxes and regulates marijuana.

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

The effort would amend the state Constitution to allow people 18 and 
older "to consume or possess limited amounts" of marijuana. The 
initiative would allow state officials to license grow facilities, 
marijuana stores and other facilities.

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

Bohlke said he has no major financial backing to fund signature 
gathering. He said he has spoken with Republican, "tea party" and 
Democratic lawmakers about his effort and that while they would not 
support him, they "were very receptive" to his effort.

Bohlke acknowledged it will be challenging to gather the signatures 
necessary to place the initiative on the ballot without major funding.

In addition, law enforcement and prosecutors would likely mount a 
strong opposition campaign.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who has made the fight 
against medical marijuana a signature issue, said any effort to 
legalize pot "even through the initiative process, would run afoul of 
the same Supremacy Clause issues that Arizona's medical-marijuana 
program faces."

But Karen O'Keefe of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, 
D.C., a national legalization-advocacy group, said 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.

"It would also allow the state to regulate and control the industry 
and to generate substantial revenue" that would benefit Arizona 
residents "instead of drug dealers," she said.

Bohlke said he is motivated by his pot-related brushes with the law. 
He was arrested twice in Scottsdale in 2010 on drug-related charges. 
Bohlke was stopped in February 2010 on suspicion of crossing the 
white line with his car, according to police records, and when the 
officer walked up to the vehicle he claimed he could smell marijuana. 
A search of the car turned up a small amount of marijuana stored in a 
mint box and a package of rolling papers, according to police. The 
case was dismissed last year after Bohlke's defense raised questions 
about when the arresting officer gave Bohlke his Miranda warning.

"That is part of the motivation for doing this," said Bohlke, who 
said he was stopped and searched by police without cause.

Bohlke was arrested again in July 2010 after a Scottsdale police 
officer said he failed to stop at a red light and initiated a DUI 
investigation, according to records. Lab test results showed the 
presence of the metabolite associated with marijuana, and Bohlke was 
convicted of being impaired to the slightest degree and driving under 
the influence of drugs, according to court records. The conviction is 
on appeal.

"It's a very bad thing for people to get arrested for marijuana - 
especially for young people going to college and going to school," he 
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 approved the use of medicinal marijuana in 2010 for 
conditions such as chronic pain and cancer. More than 35,000 
Arizonans participate in the program, which is overseen by the 
Department of Health Services.

Colorado and Washington are the only states to have legalized 
marijuana for recreational use. Lawmakers in 10 states have 
introduced bills to legalize marijuana for recreational use. All of 
those efforts have failed, O'Keefe said.

An April Pew Research Center poll said that for the first time since 
the 1960s, most Americans favor legalizing marijuana. The national 
survey found that 52 percent say marijuana should be made legal while 
45 percent say it should not. Pew reported that support for 
legalizing marijuana has risen 11 points since 2010.

Republic reporter JJ Hensley contributed to this article.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom