A ballot measure has been introduced that would legalize marijuana for recreational use in Arizona. Carlos Alfaro, Arizona Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, will debate the measure with Seth Leibsohn, chair of the Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The paperwork is in for a proposed ballot measure that would legalize recreational marijuana use in Arizona. Carlos Alfaro is Arizona political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports the initiative. Speaking against is Seth Leibsohn, chair of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy. Good to have you both here. What exactly does this ballot initiative do?
Carlos Alfaro: It does represent a strong majority of Arizonans that believe that marijuana prohibition has been a total failure. It's been as wasteful and counterproductive as alcohol prohibition was in the 1930s and a lot of its advocates and organizations that seek to keep marijuana prohibition sound like the people in the '30s. The support for legalization is not surprising. About 69% of all people know that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, about half of Americans have tried it, and more importantly, prohibition has shown not to work. The substance is still out there, it's on our streets, it's in our schools and we have to come up with a better system to regulate, tax it and reap the benefits from it.
Ted Simons: Better system to regulate, tax and reap benefits?
Seth Leibsohn: I don't think so. And I think you can look at the states that have experimented with this. You can look at the countries that have experimented with this and you can find the remorse from the Netherlands to England where they have tried to declassify it down and are trying to reclassify it up when they've seen the damage. When you look at Colorado and you look at the effect of legalization and what it's done to the teen and adolescent population, expulsions up, treatment admissions up, accidents up, it's nothing Arizona would want. It's nothing the rest of the country should want. The truth is this: If alcohol is their model, we have to ask what is the situation with alcohol in this country and state? We have 25% of adolescents using alcohol illegally, 14% using marijuana. If you want that use to look like alcohol, then you'll go with this initiative. The truth is marijuana is low because it's illegal and it's illegal because it's dangerous. It's not dangerous because it's illegal.
Ted Simons: There are those who say that adolescent brains are harmed here, that this leads to other things, that you've got people driving while high. All these problems, you hear what's going on in Colorado and other places around the world. How do you respond?
Carlos Alfaro: Well, Colorado has been a success. Millions and millions of dollars in revenue, when you talk about, for example, what Seth talked about with comparing it to alcohol, it is scary when you see the consequences of just marijuana isolated but when you compare it to alcohol, you'll see that when it comes to addiction, fatalities, violent and reckless behavior, alcohol and marijuana are in completely different leagues. Many, many bodies of medicine have shown that marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol and, of course, Colorado has reaped the benefits of that.
Ted Simons: I think the point would be less harmful, can be debated. Let's say it is less harmful. Do you want that tacked onto the harm that alcohol already does?
Carlos Alfaro: Absolutely not. The point is that right now in Arizona, there's millions of dollars in sales of marijuana that are happening in the underground market, that are happening and profiting cartels and drug dealers that could be going towards our schools, our public health and it's not going there right now.
Ted Simons: Why not regulate this? Tax this? Get the money out of this, get it out of the darkness, get the cartels out of this?
Seth Leibsohn: New York Times did an article showing the estimates for the money coming into Colorado is were 42% off. The truth is the black market has not disappeared in Colorado. About 40% of the marijuana sold in Colorado is still on the black market and you have people from other states now coming into Colorado for marijuana so Colorado has itself become a black market. The cost is the really interesting question and you're right to ask about it with alcohol because we do take in tax dollars for alcohol in the state. We take in about $70 million a year in taxes on alcohol. But we spend over $130 million a year in treating the substance abuse that comes from that. It is not a net positive and I would like to know from Carlos what money he expects to come in, for treatment --
Carlos Alfaro: I think it shows how out of touch him and his organization really are. You can go up to any high schooler or college student and they'll tell you that marijuana is very easy to get, it's not like that for alcohol. If we put it behind the counter, if we ask people for I.D., that's a much better system than this prohibition, sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that the problem is going to go away because there's a law on the book is not how we should be going about this complex issue.
Seth Leibsohn: Everyone knows that they can get a beer, they can get a bottle of wine at a gas station at 7:00 a.m. any day of the week. They can't do that with marijuana.
Carlos Alfaro: Sure they can.
Seth Leibsohn: No, they can't and use is lower -- marijuana's use is lower in the state because it is illegal. If you want to see it become more used, then you will make it just like alcohol. That's the problem with their initiative, by the way. If they are so concerned about that, then my question to them about the language in their initiative is why are the penalties for violating their marijuana law less than the penalties for violating their alcohol law.
Carlos Alfaro: Half of the country has tried it and the vast majority of people are responsible, productive citizens that actually enjoy having a little bit of marijuana instead of having a beer after work. This shouldn't be a crime. This initiative targets responsible, adult use and it helps us monitor and oversee sales to minors, so that we can, you know, accurately show I.D. so that we don't get marijuana --
Seth Leibsohn: In your law, in your law, on fake I.D.es, the penalties for a fake I.D. with marijuana are far less than the penalties I.D. for alcohol. If I can just finish my question, for alcohol a fake I.D. gets you thousands of dollars in a fine and jail time. For marijuana, you make it $300. What does that say?
Carlos Alfaro: You want to keep the same system that doesn't make marijuana disappear, that doesn't make use disappear. Half of the country has tried it, 69% know that it's less harmful and yet you want to keep the same system. If you really are worried about the children, about irresponsible people getting a hold of marijuana, you would ask for I.D. before they got it.
Seth Leibsohn: Or you would keep it where it is where use would be lower than what it would be where it would be legal. My question is this: We're sitting at an ASU campus. We have just gone through a big debate on funding for education at ASU and schools across the state. We've just finished the season of galas raising funds in this city and state. What's the point? What's the point of the debate of putting money into the education of our youth? What's the point of trying to protect the health of our youth and the minds of our youth and early childhood education and childhood nutrition if we are going to put into their stream and into their brains a substance that wipes and nullifies all of that?
Carlos Alfaro: I think this is the reason why most people agree with our position and that is to regulate responsible adult use. There shouldn't be any reason that you as a college student, as an adult over 21 can't after school or after work come home and have a beer. It would be ridiculous for somebody to arrest you for that, to fine you and punish you for that.
Seth Leibsohn: But Carlos it's already regulated. You want to legalize it. Every parent knows they're taking a glass of wine with dinner would be astounded to hear from you that their child should hear that marijuana is less dangerous than that glass of wine.
Carlos Alfaro: That child is at risk of obtaining marijuana more easily under the marijuana prohibition. Let's fund public education and health than criminalizing.
Ted Simons: Very quick question. Do you think the way we control and criminalize and try to regulate marijuana now is a success?
Seth Leibsohn: It's less of a failure than it would be if we legalized it. Their model is alcohol. Stick with that. Alcohol legalization and recreational use of alcohol costs the state billions and the incarceration is so high for them to make that their model is public policy malfeasance.
Ted Simons: If alcohol is such a problem, why add to that problem with marijuana?
Carlos Alfaro: There is millions of dollars in sale in marijuana today in Arizona. Let's get those sales away from the cartels and the gang members and more towards public education and public health. Let's regulate and tax it.
Ted Simons: Got to stop it right there. Good to have you both here. Thank you so much.
Carlos Alfaro:Arizona Political Director, Marijuana Policy Project; Seth Leibsohn:Chair, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy;