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Marijuana Legalization Signature Drive Launched In Arizona


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PHOENIX -- Voters who have seen how medical marijuana works in Arizona may get a chance to extend the ability to use the drug to all other adults.

Proponents of legalization filed the necessary paperwork Wednesday to start gathering the 259,213 signatures they need to put the issue of legalization on the 2014 ballot. They have through July 3, 2014.

The proposed constitutional amendment would do more than allow both the possession of marijuana and its sale at retail outlets.

It also would alter drunk-driving laws so that the mere presence of a metabolite of the drug in a motorist's system is not, by itself, proof the person was legally impaired. Instead, it would be one bit of evidence that could be offered -- but legally insufficient without a video of any field sobriety tests.

Robert Clark, chairman of the Safer Arizona Committee which is pushing the measure, said this is particularly important, as metabolites of marijuana remain in the blood for a long period after someone has used the drug.

Dennis Bohlke, treasurer of the campaign, tried a similar campaign for the 2010 ballot, proposing to make the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana a petty offense, punishable by only a $300 fine. But he gave up after his plan wound up in competition with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act which eventually was approved by voters.

This new measure is actually far more expansive than Bohlke's 2010 effort, with marijuana possession and sale to adults actually legalized. The only role of the state and local governments would be to regulate it, as it does alcohol, with Arizona entitled to collect a 15 percent excise tax on purchases as well as state and local sales taxes.

Bohlke acknowledged that the medical marijuana initiative was approved by just a narrow margin, actually going down to defeat in 12 of the state's 15 counties. But he said even his far more expansive proposal for outright legalization should have no problem getting approved.

"Three years has made a big difference," he said, saying polls show more people support legalizing marijuana now than when he made his first proposal. And Bohlke pointed out that voters in Colorado and Washington have since made marijuana possession legal.

All that, however, presumes Clark and Bohlke can get the measure on the ballot.

At this point they are waging what they say is a "grassroots" efforts, meaning they have no money for paid circulators. But Clark said they have been promised financial support from national groups for the actual campaign if he can manage to get the necessary signatures.

The change in drunk-driving laws alone would be significant.

In a ruling earlier this year, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld existing laws which say the presence of any metabolite of marijuana in a motorist's blood, in any amount, is sufficient to sustain a charge of driving under the influence of drugs, a variant of state DUI laws. Clark said that's not fair.

"There's no correlation between the amount of cannaboids in your system and impairment," he said. Clark said it can vary among individuals based on how much they've used and how long they have been using the drug.

"We're not advocating for people to go out there and smoke cannabis while they're driving and endanger somebody else," he said. "But we want to also be fair and not set up ways for the state to continue to fill our jails up and our prisons up with people that are using cannabis."

For Bohlke, the issue is more than academic. He said he has charged by Scottsdale police with driving under the influence of drugs based on the presence of metabolites in his blood.



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