Pubdate: Mon, 03 Nov 2014
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2014 The Arizona Republic
Author: Lauren Loftus, Cronkite News


Arizona Proposal Would Separate Medical, Recreational Businesses

"I believe it's actually less likely to get in the hands of the minor 
because the people that are supplying it have an incentive to work 
with the state because they want to keep their license."

The people who brought medical marijuana to Arizona four years ago 
now want marijuana legal for everyone over the age of 21.

The Marijuana Policy Project has filed paperwork with state election 
officials to form a committee to begin raising funds for a 2016 
citizens initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use. Arizona 
voters narrowly passed Proposition 203 allowing medical cannabis use in 2010.

Communications Director Mason Tvert said the group has plenty of 
support in Arizona despite the state's traditionally conservative 
voting patterns.

"It appears most Arizona voters are ready to adopt a more sensible 
policy," he said. "There were a large number of supporters who got on 
board (in 2010) and are ready to move forward."

Tvert said the Arizona initiative would be modeled closely on a 
previous movement in Colorado, which became the first state to 
legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Washington was a close second.

According to Tvert, the medical-marijuana business here needn't worry 
about losing its 52,000 registered cardholders. Like Colorado, there 
would likely be a differentiation in the medical and recreational 
business models.

First, only people 21 and older could purchase recreational weed. In 
both Arizona and Colorado, the threshold for a medical card is 18 
years old. Those under 18 can obtain a medical card if their legal 
guardian is their designated caregiver.

There could also be a marked difference in pricing.

In Colorado, recreational shoppers pay nearly 13 percent in general 
and special state sales tax, plus a 15 percent excise tax at the 
wholesale level. Meanwhile, medical cardholders pay the 2.9 percent 
state sales tax and any local taxes.

Dispensaries for recreational and medical marijuana are kept 
completely separate, even if the same owner operates both. Tvert said 
this separation, as well as the different tax rates, keeps existing 
medical-card holders from flocking to the recreational dispensaries en masse.

"If you went into a business in Colorado that was doing both and 
said, 'I want Product A, but it's only on the medical side,' then you 
can't get it if you don't have a license," he said.

Sarah Philyaw, a manager at Arizona Organix in Glendale, one of the 
first medical dispensaries to open in the state, said she would 
definitely welcome recreational sellers to the fold, even if it meant 
more competition.

She said one way to differentiate the two business models would be to 
sell specific strains and products to medical cardholders and 
recreational users, as Colorado does.

One of the more popular medical products at Arizona Organix, Philyaw 
said, is a CBD, or cannabidiol, tincture.

The sublingual oil doesn't contain THC, the main psychoactive 
property of cannabis.

"We have patients that buy the bottles for anxiety. They feel a 
decrease in anxiety and there's other benefits," she said. "It's 
comparable to taking a vitamin C pill."

Not everyone sees marijuana as so harmless.

The Arizona County Attorney and Sheriff's Association signed a 
resolution in July opposing full legalization, citing various 
detrimental effects of marijuana use.

"It is demotivating, it hurts student achievement, it creates 
additional crime," said David Leibowitz, spokesman for the Arizona 
Association of Counties.

The resolution was sponsored by MATFORCE, an organization aimed at 
reducing substance abuse in Yavapai County and statewide.

Executive Director Merilee Fowler said there is a lot of 
misinformation about marijuana use, particularly among young people.

"In kids' minds, when you say that something is legal, the perception 
of risk goes down and youth use goes up," she said.

Fowler also pointed to teens abusing legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco.

"Why would we want to add a third legal substance that's going to 
cost our nation?" she asked.

State Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, disagreed with the perception that 
minors would be more likely to use marijuana if it were legalized.

"I believe it's actually less likely to get in the hands of the minor 
because the people (licensed dispensaries) that are supplying it have 
an incentive to work with the state because they want to keep their 
license," he said.

Orr, who is planning to introduce a proposal of his own to legalize 
recreational marijuana before the state Legislature next year, said 
one only has to look at Colorado to see the benefits of legalization.

"I think once they're stabilized, they'll be making $100 to $150 
million in tax revenue now that they've overcome some of the federal 
barriers," he said. "In addition, I think that by decriminalizing it, 
you're going to save $75 to $100 million within your criminal-justice system."

Orr said that extra money could then be funneled back into law 
enforcement, education and possibly tax cuts.

Orr said he also favors a dual-track system that allows medical 
dispensaries to continue operating independently of the recreational side.

The Marijuana Policy Project's Tvert said if recreational use passes 
in Arizona, existing medical dispensaries could have first dibs on 
selling recreational products as long as the inventories were kept separate.

"Those businesses have established themselves and demonstrated 
they're willing and able to follow the law," he said. "It certainly 
makes sense to let those businesses be among the first to start 
providing marijuana to adults if the initiative passes."

Whatever happens with Arizona's marijuana business, Tvert said the 
initiative coalition will be sensitive to local needs.

"It will constantly evolve," he said. "It will be, 'This is what we 
believe is the best possible policy right now.' "
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom