Arizona Marijuana Legalization Nears Signature Goal, Groups Speak Out Against It

Published: Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - 4:28pm
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Ted S. Warren/AP/NPR
Marijuana leaves.

The campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona is nearing its goal of gathering enough signatures to get an initiative on the ballot this November. As they near the finish line, some business groups are speaking out against the idea.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce came out against legalizing marijuana last year. Then, just last week, the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce announced their opposition. The president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce said more business organizations will follow suit.

“I would expect as time goes by other chambers and business groups will come out against it,” Glenn Hamer said. “It presents all sorts of workforce issues.”

Business groups like these argue that workers who use marijuana are more likely to have accidents and injuries, and that would increase job turnover, absenteeism and worker’s compensation claims.

According to Hamer, legalizing a drug like marijuana would create additional costs for businesses – particularly small businesses – when it comes to regulating use and hiring qualified workers.

“It’s not a safer workforce when people are high on pot, particularly high potency pot,” Hamer said. “There’s a lot of ambiguity, but ambiguity means litigation, litigation means unnecessary expenses, and we’re trying to figure out exactly the problem that this initiative is chasing."

But, the campaign to legalize marijuana has really fought against this position. They even held a press conference outside of a recent chamber event to highlight the economic benefits of regulating and taxing marijuana.

According to J.P. Holyoak, chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, if a company has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drugs and alcohol now, nothing will change if this initiative passes.

“Businesses have the right to hire and fire as they so choose,” he said.

Holyoak said he is an unapologetic conservative, but he saw the positive effects of medical marijuana on his daughter, who has suffered from seizures. Now, he runs a cultivation facility and said he thinks it only makes sense to regulate and tax recreational marijuana as well, because trying to make it illegal has not worked.

“The idea that this would cause insurance premiums to go up or workplace accidents, or some of the other arguments that they’re making, it ignores the fact that marijuana is already out there, it’s easily and readily accessible to anybody and everybody that wants it,” Holyoak said. “We are better off taxing it and regulating it.”

If voters approve the initiative, marijuana would be legalized for recreational use in Arizona, and a system of licensed dispensaries would be created. Retail sales of the drug would be taxed 15 percent and the proceeds would go to fund education.

Holyoak said in Colorado about a half a billion dollars of adult-use marijuana was sold in 2015, and the industry created about 21,000 jobs.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is just a few thousand signatures short of the 150,000 they need to gather by July to get on the November ballot, according to Holyoak. But, they’ll gather more than that to account for some that are likely invalid, he said. 

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