Prop 207

Petitions submitted last June for the marijuana initiative contained more than enough signatures to qualify Prop 207 for the Nov. 3 ballot.

The way Lisa James sees it, Proposition 207 is not about whether people should be able to use marijuana.

She said if Arizonans want that there’s a simple solution: Repeal the laws that now make its sale and use illegal.

But James, who chairs Arizonans for Health and Public Safety – which opposes the initiative – said that’s not what’s on the ballot.

“If they wanted to do that, they could do that in a page and a half,’’ she said.

James said it’s a complex set of regulations on 17 pages that is financed by for-profit organizations that will benefit if it wins approval.

Prop 207 also has drawn the opposition of the Catholic church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Chad Campbell, chairman of Smart and Safe Arizona, the industry-financed campaign which crafted and is backing the measure, does not dispute that there’s a of detail on all those pages beyond making it legal to possess up to an ounce of the drug and up to six plants. 

But he said that is necessary to ensure that marijuana is properly controlled, that there are limits on how it can be marketed and, potentially more significant, that it generates the estimated $300 million a year earmarked for education.

What’s not necessary, said James, are some other provisions tucked into the measure.

For example, it allows these new recreational marijuana shops to share premises with existing medical marijuana facilities.

 James said it changes the laws for medical marijuana dispensaries – such as removing the existing requirement that medical marijuana dispensaries be operated as nonprofit entities.

That was one of the selling points behind the 2010 measure that legalized marijuana for certain medical conditions. 

Prop 207 also eliminates the requirement for dispensaries to have a medical director.

Campbell dismissed those concerns as irrelevant.

He said even if medical marijuana now would be sold by those seeking a profit, that won’t necessarily boost the cost.

“It will be market-driven,’’ Campbell said, calling medical directors unnecessary because the initiative includes requirements for testing as well as limits on the strength of edible marijuana products.

There is no cap on the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – in the leaves and flowers that are sold.

As much as James says the 17-page initiative is too chock full of provisions versus simple decriminalization, there also are more restrictions that she actually wants in the measure.

There’s the issue of advertising and promotion.

The measure would not only prohibit sales to those younger than 21 but also ban the sale of products that resemble humans, animals, fruits, toys or cartoons. And it specifically bans marketing marijuana products to children.

James said that’s not enough. She wants to block promotion of marijuana ways that children can see.

“They could have restricted their access on social media, for instance,’’ she said, saying youngsters are spending a lot of time on the internet.

She conceded there is no such ban on promoting alcohol or tobacco. But James said that is irrelevant.

“I can see a lot of things on the internet,’’ she said. “But that doesn’t mean I want to see more of them.’’

There’s also the issue of driving while drugged.

The initiative spells out that it remains illegal to operate a motor vehicle, boat or aircraft “while impaired to even the slightest degree.’’

Only thing is, there is currently no technology, similar to a breath test, to determine the level of THC in someone’s blood. 

Even if such a device becomes available, there is no standard in the initiative to say that a specific THC level is a presumption of driving impaired, the way someone with a blood-alcohol level is presumed to be driving drunk.

Then there’s the issue of how Proposition 207 is structured.

It limits the number of recreational marijuana facilities that can be set up. Campbell said Arizonans don’t want a situation like Denver where recreational outlets have popped up all over the city.

But it pretty much guarantees that the operators of existing medical marijuana dispensaries will get one of the new licenses.

“This is about big marijuana money and a whole commercial industry,’’ James said.

That provision, in turn, helps explain why virtually all of the $3.5 million collected to hire the paid circulators to put the issue on the ballot and finance the campaign came from companies that already have marijuana facilities in the state. 

If the state simply decriminalized marijuana possession and use, those exclusive licenses to sell the product would be worthless. But Campbell said it makes sense to have some controls and make it safe.

For example, he said, there are product standards and testing. And there even are some restrictions on how it can be marketed to ensure that ads are not targeting those younger than 21 for whom the drug would remain off limits.

“The entire point of this is to create a safe regulatory environment for the use of this product in a responsible manner,’’ Campbell said.

He compared it to how the state regulates the sale of alcohol.

There is a bit of a parallel there. Aside from age restrictions, Arizona limits the number of licenses for bars.

But there are no limits on how many restaurants can serve alcoholic beverages. And there are no caps on the number of grocery and convenience stores that can sell alcoholic beverages.

“Voters don’t want it to be unlimited,’’ Campbell said of retail marijuana outlets.

He did not dispute that the operators of the existing 130 medical marijuana dispensaries would get first crack at the licenses for recreational sale of marijuana.

But Campbell pointed out there also is a requirement to give out 26 new licenses under a “social equity’’ program to help those who are from communities “disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws.’’ And there are provisions for added dispensaries as population grows.

The initiative does have some options for local control.

It allows cities and counties in unincorporated areas to limit the number of retail outlets and marijuana testing facilities, regulate their hours of operation and outright prohibit both.

But restrictions on recreational facilities cannot be more restrictive than those imposed on medical dispensaries. And there can’t be new restrictions on recreational marijuana outlets if they’re operated at the same location as an existing medical marijuana outlet – something that again gives an advantage to those already on the ground.

Prop 207 also sets up a procedure for anyone who has previously been convicted of drug possession to have the criminal record wiped out.

The arguments by foes that this isn’t a simple repeal of laws making it a crime to possess marijuana still leaves the fact that it is the only proposal on the November ballot to allow adults to use the drug for recreational purposes. 

James sidestepped the question of whether she and others who oppose this measure would support simple decriminalization.

“I think that you would see differences of opinion,’’ she said.

“There are some people who are fine with decriminalization,’’ James said. “But Prop 207 is not the way to do it.’’