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Legalize It!

A signature drive aims to bring legalization to the ballot, but will it work?

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There's an elephant in the room, and he wants you to sign his petition.

Since the dawn of medical marijuana in 1996, people have hoped the new paradigm would lead to recreational legalization. For some cannabis advocates, the medical veneer is thin (see my column from last week), but there are undeniable deep connections between recreational and medical cannabis users. The Tucson branch of NORML has voiced its willingness to cling to medical coattails as a vehicle to legalization.

Now in Arizona we have a new ally in the quest for legalization, the same ally that made it possible in Washington and Colorado—us.

Last week, the political action committee Safer Arizona filed paperwork with the state declaring its intent to legalize marijuana here via voter initiative. If they can collect 259,213 signatures on petitions by next July, the change to the state Constitution will go on the ballot in November.

Medical cannabis is important to the effort, because the medical world has emerged as the connective tissue among cannabis users of all stripes in Arizona. There are dozens of Facebook pages linking us together in open collaboration, something few were willing to do as recreational users.

The petition drive was sparked by Dennis Bohlke of Phoenix, who was spurred by a DUI conviction for cannabis. His urine tested positive for cannabis metabolites, and he was convicted and later appealed. He is still fighting the conviction, he said.

Meanwhile, Bohlke decided to head off the problem for others. He thinks Arizonans are weary of ruining young people's lives with felony convictions for minor, victimless offenses and wasting millions of dollars annually on investigation and prosecution.

"I don't believe they want to do that anymore," he said.

So he wrote a new amendment to the state Constitution and created Safer Arizona to push not only for legalization, but also to change state DUI laws so people with cannabis metabolites in their blood—which can remain weeks after you use cannabis—can't be convicted.

I agree in spirit with what Bohlke and his colleagues are doing, but I have reservations. Actually, I see almost no hope it will pass, despite one poll (http://www.brcpolls.com/13/RMP%202013-II-08.pdf) showing 56 percent support for legalization and another showing 59 percent support (http://thecannabisindustry.org/AZ-survey-011113.pdf). My belief it will fail boils down to two words—voting age. The Safer Arizona amendment would legalize cannabis for anyone 18 or older,

Legalization for adults of drinking age is one thing, but I'm not 100 percent sure it's a good idea for 18-year-olds to use cannabis. If I have reservations, it's a safe bet that the general population will scoff. It's highly unlikely Safer Arizona will convince a majority of our oh-so-red state to let high school seniors possess, use, display, purchase, or transport marijuana accessories or two and a half (2.5) ounces or less of marijuana.

So I am sad to say that this effort seems doomed from the start. Frankly, it makes me wonder about the motivations behind it. Why would anyone with realistic intentions to make cannabis legal try to include teens? It seems either incredibly naive or incredibly devious. Including teens in this effort seems like a reliable way to ensure it fails.

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