Advocates argue new legal sales and excise taxes would help states weather economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic — a marked shift from previous messaging that focused on social and racial justice.
Residents of five states are set to assess seven associated ballot measures, and proponents of legalization are touting cannabis as a new source of revenue for state governments, hoping to win over holdouts.
Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., is a supporter of the popular Proposition 207 ballot measure — or the Smart and Safe Arizona Act — which would allow adults 21 and older to possess as much as an ounce of marijuana, approve sales at 130 medical marijuana dispensaries, and allow those previously convicted of crimes that would no longer be illegal under the act to have their records wiped clean.
According to The Arizona Republic, Prop. 207 would also place a 16% excise tax on sales and provide 26 retail licenses to “those historically disadvantaged by marijuana laws.”
“From a criminal justice perspective, the revenue that we should be worried about is the fact that we’re not going to be destroying a lot of young men’s lives for carrying a small amount of marijuana,” Gallego told The Hill on Friday. “I do think our marijuana laws are used by police to target young males of color, particularly Black men.”
Arizona began early voting on Oct. 7 and has seen record turnout.
Conversely, four years ago, Arizona voters rejected Proposition 205, a similar measure, by 2.5 percentage points.
Public sentiment on legalization has evolved over the past couple of decades and Gallup polls from 20 years ago through last year show approval has jumped from less than a third to two-thirds of Americans.
Opponents of legalization — like anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana — have run on a two-pronged platform, asserting legalization will lead to an increase in intoxicated driving cases and that corporations supporting legalization campaigns would rake in the profits.
In a quote on the organization’s website, Colorado’s former Director of Marijuana Coordination Andrew Freedman said that legalization for taxation is a “myth.”
“You are not going to pave streets. You are not going to be able to pay teachers,” said Freedman. “The big red herring is the whole thing that the tax revenue will solve a bunch of crises. But it won’t.”