Pubdate: Sat, 11 Oct 2014
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2014 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez


Now that Arizona's once-rosy budget outlook has evaporated, a state
lawmaker wants to decriminalize and tax marijuana as a way to raise

After seeing Colorado's experience with legalization, Rep. Ethan Orr,
R-Tucson, said Friday that lawmakers should get creative about how
they're going to confront the state's dim finances when the
Legislature convenes in January.

Revenue projections provided Tuesday to the Legislature's Finance
Advisory Committee predict the state will end this budget year with a
$520 million deficit and an up to $1 billion deficit in the coming
fiscal 2016.

"Given the massive budget shortfall we're facing, we need to look at
revenue and I think this is a logical place we need to look," Orr
said. "I think it's time to have an intelligent conversation about it

Similar attempts to decriminalize pot have failed in recent

Orr said lawmakers should consider his proposal before supporters of
an effort to legalize recreational marijuana take their measure before
voters in 2016.

The Marijuana Policy Project of Arizona initiative almost certainly
will be modeled after the voter-approved marijuana program in Colorado.

For about a year, Colorado has allowed adults 21 and older to buy and
possess up to an ounce of pot, which can be purchased at one of the
many marijuana shops allowed under the law.

Colorado's 2013 measure taxed recreational marijuana at 25 percent and
earmarked $40 million in tax revenue for school construction.

The state's Legislative Council recently estimated Colorado can expect
to bring in about $175 million through the fiscal year that ends in

Orr said he plans to talk with Republican leadership in the coming
weeks to try to build support for his proposal. Leadership in the
House and Senate did not immediately respond to a request for comment
about Orr's idea.

"If I don't think I'll have the votes, I won't take it forward," he

Orr said he know he'll have a tough time pitching his idea to his
colleagues. But, he said, he'd rather have state lawmakers impose a
tax and direct its uses rather than leave it to an unpredictable plan
from a citizen's initiative.

Orr said taxes from marijuana sales in Arizona could be put towards
education, law enforcement and tax incentives "for certain

Marijuana is legal for about 50,000 Arizonans, but only for medicinal
purposes. Patients must get recommendations from a physician and
obtain a card from state health officials under the Arizona Medical
Marijuana Act approved by the voters in 2010.

Any effort toward full legalization in Arizona is expected to be met
with stiff opposition from law-enforcement officials and possibly from
medical-marijuana dispensary owners who have spent the past few years
building their businesses around the medicinal model.
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MAP posted-by: Richard