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Ethan Orr pushes legalization of recreational marijuana

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Rebecca Marie Sasnett and Rebecca Marie Sasnett | The Daily Wildcat

Rep. Ethan Orr (R-District 9) talks with community members before the start of the Old Main renovation opening ceremony on Oct. 8. Orr is pushing to legalize recreational marijuana.

An initiative to legalize recreational marijuana will be on the 2016 ballot, but Rep. Ethan Orr (R-District 9) suggests that a voter-approved measure is not the way to go.

If recreational marijuana is approved by voters, having to change any of its policies would be nearly impossible because of the Voter Protection Act. Orr said he believes elected leaders should be the ones to take the initiative on the proposal, because it is a complex system that would require proper planning of rules and taxation for the drug.

“Let’s decide what we want to do, because the reality is that’s my job as a leader,” Orr said. “My job as a leader is not to pander to people. It’s to facilitate difficult discussions and come up with a good policy.”

Orr said he plans on having this discussion at the legislative session of Arizona on Jan. 12, 2015.

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Orr added that recreational marijuana could potentially be a billion dollar industry.

“Protective revenue could be about $250 to $300 million dollars, and then if you look at the additional burden of the system of incarceration, that’s an additional $75 to $100 million dollars that the state is putting in to enforcing the act of marijuana law,” Orr said. “Right now, that money and that control is going to the cartels and into the black market.”

There are questions and concerns regarding how marijuana would be regulated if it becomes open to the public. Orr has worked with the medical marijuana dispensary system in Arizona for the past two years and suggests using this same system for the recreational drug. Orr said Arizona’s dispensary system for medicinal marijuana is the best in the nation and that it is a highly compliant and highly regulated industry.

Orr is making a trip to Colorado and plans to visit Washington state to make statistical studies and seek new perspectives.

Jay Zimmermann, manager for the Downtown Dispensary in Tucson, said Colorado and Washington are making billions from their sales tax revenue and that this money is making its way back to the state.

“The fact that they’re only doing 25 to 30 percent of the sales that they should be doing this time next year still generating that much tax revenue is fantastic news,” Zimmermann said. “By a large sum its a wild success. That said, what they do with those taxes really makes that a success or not.”

Orr said the biggest obstacle he has faced since making this proposal is people not willing to have a discussion about it.

Mason Tvert, director of communications at the Marijuana Policy Project, said that in comparison, marijuana is less harmful than alcohol.

“It’s irrational to punish adults for choosing the safer substance,” Tvert said. “Marijuana prohibition has been just as big as the alcohol prohibition: ineffective, wasteful and problematic, and it’s time to regulate marijuana like alcohol, take it out of the underground market and treat it similarly to alcohol.”

Tvert is based in Denver and was one of the co-directors for the Colorado campaign. Tvert said Colorado is moving forward well since legalizing recreational marijuana.

“The system is operational, and millions of dollars in marijuana sales are taking place in regulated, legitimate businesses instead of any underground market,” Tvert said. “The state has generated tens of millions of dollars.”

According to Tvert, there is a high possibility that the sales taking place from the business in Colorado will soon be eliminating underground marijuana related activity.

The Marijuana Policy Project plans on supporting the advocates who put their proposal on Arizona’s ballot in 2016.

Zimmermann is also concerned about the patients who really need the medicine right now. Zimmermann said the legalization of recreational marijuana could make it more difficult for medical patients to obtain higher quality medical marijuana, because there would be more demand.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Zimmermann said. “It really is going to be kind of an experimentation to find out what works and what doesn’t, and luckily, we have the ability to look at Colorado and Washington beforehand and kind of learn from their mistakes. But you know, every state legislator is obviously operating differently, so we’re not quite sure what’s going to happen when it all unfolds.”

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