Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jun 2013
Source: Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, AZ)
Contact:  2013 Arizona Daily Star
Author: Tim Steller


Dennis Bohlke insists there's no time to wait. Many people in the 
anti-prohibition movement are looking toward 2016 as the year Arizona 
voters should consider an initiative to legalize marijuana for 
personal, nonmedical use. But Bohlke, of Phoenix, is pushing for a 
vote in 2014.

He took out petitions June 11 and filed a seven-page proposed 
constitutional amendment with the secretary of state. That leaves him 
and a loosely organized band of volunteers with a huge challenge: 
collecting 259,213 valid signatures by July 3, 2014, to put the 
initiative on next year's general-election ballot.

It may seem there's plenty of time, with a year to go, but in fact 
the challenge is huge: 696 valid signatures per day. And, frankly, it 
is likely insurmountable.

That's because the interest-group machinery, complete with funders 
and organizational support, is cranking into gear on a different time frame.

"I sympathize with that feeling of urgency, but I think success will 
come easier in 2016," said Tucsonan Jon Gettels, who is president of 
AZ4NORML, the state branch of the National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Gettels added that he'll support Bohlke's initiative - he just 
doesn't hold out much hope for its passage.

I asked Bohlke why try now, and his answer was simple: "17,000 people 
being arrested in Arizona every year for marijuana possession."

Bohlke, 59, said he was arrested twice three years ago, once for 
possession of marijuana, once for driving impaired by marijuana. He 
was acquitted of the possession charge but convicted of the DUI 
charge, in what he feels was an unfair outcome.

"What does a citizen do?" he asked.

His answer is to go for legalization now.

The initiative he's written is modeled after the one Colorado voters 
passed in 2012, which legalized the possession and use of an ounce of 
marijuana. However, Bohlke's initiative differs in one key respect: 
Colorado's law permits marijuana use by those 21 and older, whereas 
Bohlke's initiative would allow it for those at least 18 years old.

If the Safer Arizona initiative, as Bohlke named it, ever makes the 
ballot, that age limit alone will bring out strong opposition. I sent 
the language to Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor, and he said 
this in a statement:

"A particularly troubling aspect of this initiative is that it sets 
the acceptable age for use of marijuana to 18 (voting age) which is 
even less restrictive than the regulations concerning alcohol, which 
prohibit its use until 21. If passed, this initiative will place an 
even greater number of immature young adults behind the wheel of a 
motor vehicle after legally consuming a substance that impairs their 
judgment and motor skills."

Another part of the initiative sure to draw the ire of police is its 
regulation of evidence of driving while impaired by marijuana. 
Evidence of impairment gained from sobriety tests, the initiative 
says, "can only be presented as admissible evidence in court when 
accompanied with video records of such tests."

Bohlke traveled the marijuana trail in Arizona in preparing the 
initiative, taking feedback from people in marijuana-legalization 
groups and medical-pot organizations. The impairment issue is big, he 
said, because evidence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, 
remains in the body for days or weeks after the high has gone and is 
not evidence of impairment in itself.

"The initiative, in a lot of ways, is written for marijuana users, 
because that is the base," he said.

If he can motivate them to get enough signatures - now there's an 
interesting challenge - he's thinking it will be a separate issue 
selling the ballot measure to voters in November 2014.

People in the increasingly formal marijuana business sector tend to 
sympathize with Bohlke but don't see it happening next year.

When I asked Mason Tvert, communications director of the nationwide 
Marijuana Policy Project, about this initiative, he said, "We know of 
it. We're not involved in it though.

"Getting an initiative on the ballot typically is very expensive," 
Tvert said. "We feel that any initiative effort should be carried out 
in 2016, when we know more voters will turn out."

For those of us who question the wisdom of marijuana prohibition, 
it's hard to wait. Arizona voters first approved medical-marijuana in 
1996 and it only recently became available for purchase.

Change is happening much faster now, but pushing legalization to 2014 
may be a step too fast.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom