Arizona Legislators make changes to new marijuana law

The backers of a measure to legalize marijuana in Arizona will make several “minor” changes following a legal review of the proposal by staff members of the state Legislature.

The 16-page “Smart and Safe Arizona Act” proposal was filed with the state in early August, and the backers opted for a review by the Legislative Council, a legislative committee that assists with the drafting of bills. The council responded with their review Friday.

The staff review by the nonpartisan committee is done mostly to assure the format and wording of the ballot measure is written and styled consistent with how bills are drafted at the Legislature, and also to address any potential conflicts the measure would create.

The biggest issue with Arizona legalizing marijuana is, of course, that it would conflict with federal law. That’s the first thing the review pointed out.

Smart and Safe Arizona will accept most of the changes proposed by the review, said spokeswoman Stacy Pearson, senior vice president with Strategies 360 in Phoenix.

But the conflict with federal law will remain. The federal government under both presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama has taken a mostly hands-off approach to marijuana sales and use through state-regulated programs.

The Arizona legislative staff did make some important points, though, Pearson said. The staff noted that while the ballot measure proposes civil penalties and fines for violations of the act, it doesn’t say where money from those penalties should go.

“That’s a great catch,” Pearson said.

Many of the other suggestions in the review are grammatical or related to the format of the measure, such as alphabetizing certain sections. Many pages of the measure have dozens of suggestions for changes.

The measure would allow people 21 and older to have as much as an ounce of marijuana, while letting the state decide some important decisions such as potency.

The effort is funded by medical-marijuana dispensaries, who Pearson said made a concerted effort to address concerns from public safety officials, municipalities and other groups likely to oppose the measure.

The result is a measure that would limit retail sites mostly to the existing medical-marijuana dispensary locations in Arizona, tax sales at 16% above regular sales taxes, leave much of the regulation to the Department of Health Services and direct new revenues mostly toward community colleges and public safety.

Pearson said the measure should be refiled within a week with the changes.