Pubdate: Thu, 20 Aug 2015
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2015 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez


Group: Initiative Would Help Underfunded Schools

Legalizing and taxing marijuana could raise an additional $40 million 
a year for education, according to estimates by the campaign to 
legalize the drug in Arizona.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is gathering 
signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot, would establish a network 
of licensed cannabis shops where sales of the drug would be taxed.

J.P. Holyoak, campaign chairman, said at a news conference at the 
state Capitol, "We have a choice: We can either tax and regulate 
marijuana for the benefit of education and public-health care, or we 
can keep it illegal for the benefit of illegal drug cartels."

He called the group's $40 million estimate "very conservative."

Total spending on K-12 education in Arizona totals about $10 billion, 
including state, federal and other sources.

Under the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, adults 21 and 
older could possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six 
plants in their homes without obtaining licenses, as long as the 
plants were in a secure area. The initiative also would create a 
distribution system similar to Colorado's, where licensed businesses 
produce and sell marijuana, and pay a 15 percent tax on retail sales 
to be allocated to education, including full-day kindergarten, and 
public health.

Half of the money generated for education under the Arizona 
initiative would fund K-12 school operations and maintenance, and the 
other half would fund all-day kindergarten.

The prospect of new education funding is a key part of the pitch to 
legalize the drug. Arizona's poor education standing has been the 
focus of intense debate among state leaders as well as educators, 
many of whom say schools have inadequate resources. In fiscal 2013, 
Arizona spent $7,208 per student in fiscal 2013, far below the 
national average of $10,700, a recently released U.S. Census Bureau 
report said.

There is no independent analysis of how much tax revenue could be 
generated under the proposed law.

The Joint Budget and Legislative Committee staff won't conduct a 
fiscal analysis until it's sure the initiative qualifies for the ballot.

Michael Bradley, chief of staff for schools Superintendent Diane 
Douglas, said Tuesday the Department of Education has not looked at 
the issue, but would do so in response to The Republic's inquiry.

Bruce Merrill, a longtime Arizona pollster, said "there's no 
question" voters would support new funding for education, saying it's 
the top issue on voters' minds.

"In terms of public opinion, will there be a positive response in 
reaction to new taxes bringing in money for education? I don't think 
there's any question," Merrill said. "People will respond favorably. 
But ... will they know what that means, or the implications beyond 
that? It gets very complex after that."

Merrill pointed to problems in Colorado, which is in its second year 
of legalized marijuana. There, tax revenue has fallen short of projections.

In 2014, Colorado's first year, the state collected about $87.3 
million in taxes, licenses and fees, Colorado Department of Revenue 
records show. This year, marijuana sales - and taxes -have picked up.

The retail-pot-sales figures for June 2015 also saw their 
largest-ever month-over-month increase, adding credibility to 2014 
trends that hinted at marijuana sales spiking during Colorado 
tourism's busy seasons of summer and winter.

Colorado gives the first $40 million raised by its marijuana tax to 
public school construction. About $13.3 million was collected last 
year for the schools.

Separately, two neighboring states and sheriffs have sued to strike 
down Colorado's law, and neighbors of grow houses are complaining of 
the strong, dank odor wafting from the buildings.

Seth Leibsohn, chairman of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, 
which opposes legalization, said the harms of marijuana legalization 
would outweigh new funding for schools. He said legalization would 
jeopardize educational outcomes and could create "social, educational 
and health damage that would outweigh all of the potential collected revenue."

"Given the costs of treatment, addiction, suspensions, expulsions, 
dropouts, accidents, hospitalizations, I would submit a bill to the 
state for hundreds of millions of dollars with their check," Leibsohn 
said, referring to the jumbo $40 million check the campaign 
symbolically presented to the state.

Leibsohn later added, "The dangers of such an upsurge ought to 
dominate decisions about the level and form of taxation."

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, business leaders and 
Gov. Doug Ducey oppose legalization. Robert Graham, chairman of the 
state Republican Party, called the campaign's news conference 
"pathetic" and said the promised benefits of legalization "are as 
fake as the check they showed at their press conference today."

On Wednesday, legalization supporters - some of whom identified 
themselves as medical-marijuana users - said many people use 
marijuana even though it is illegal and the state might as well 
benefit financially from it rather than "cartels."

Lisa Olson, a teacher and medical marijuana user, said she supports 
the legalization because of the "continued degradation" of Arizona schools.

"I'm in the trenches every day and I have seen what the lack of 
funding is doing to our schools and to our children's future," she 
said. "So our class sizes are increasing, we're all aware that we 
have a teacher shortage. We need every dollar we can get for education."

The campaign said it had collected more than 60,000 of the more than 
150,000 valid signatures of registered Arizona voters needed to 
qualify for the November 2016 ballot.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom