State Rep. Wants to Legalize Recreational Marijuana Ahead of 2016 Ballot Initiative

Oct 14, 2014

Next year, an Arizona lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, if passed, the law would mark the first such legalization in the U.S. by elected officials, rather than through a ballot initiative.

Credit NPR/David McNew - Getty Images

Currently, only Colorado and Washington state allow recreational use of marijuana. And in both, the laws were passed by voters.

Now a similar proposal is slated to appear on Arizona’s 2016 ballot.

Tucson Republican state representative Ethan Orr is sponsoring the bill. He says the question of recreational marijuana legalization in Arizona isn’t about if it’ll happen, but when, and that the issue should go through the legislative process.

“It requires a three-fourths vote to change any voter-protected law. That’s there for a reason, but most of those voter-protected laws go into place because we as leaders fail to lead,” Orr says.

Orr cites that taxing recreational marijuana could help alleviate Arizona’s billion-dollar budget deficit projected for 2016. He also says his proposal would address public safety.

“As a parent myself, I am concerned about this getting into the hands of minors as I’m concerned about alcohol getting into the hands of minors. But I would argue, what better way to protect our children than to regulate it, tax it and control it?” Orr asks.

Though Orr isn’t optimistic about the proposal becoming law, he wants a discussion to start now on recreational marijuana legalization. He says the public health and law enforcement communities, along with dispensary owners, will have a say in how future law is drafted.

In 2010, Arizona became the 15th state in the nation to legalize marijuana for medical use.