As legislation looms in Arizona, voters need to say ‘show me the money’ and ‘what are the real costs?’
Efforts to legalize marijuana in Arizona this fall are currently focused on touting the revenue it would create for education.
Whether or not that money is really going to improve education is a key concern. The other is this: People seem to think marijuana is the answer to school funding — but not that long ago, school districts nationwide seemed appalled at taking money from soda machine revenues.
The effort is polling badly, said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of the nonprofit group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM Action), which is dedicated to defeating recreational pot initiatives. Sabet said the effort has barely more than 40 percent support.
“People are seeing through the smoke and mirrors — that pot legalization brings far more costs than benefits, in the form of car accidents, emergency room admissions from pot edibles, school drop outs, and other costs,” Sabet told LifeZette. “The Arizona initiative would commercialize pot candies, high THC concentrates, and other items marketable to young people.”
We’ve seen how poorly legalization has gone in Colorado, where money is not building new schools or helping the education system, he said. “In fact, they are experiencing more problems since legalization.”
Taxes Laid Bare
In Colorado, there is a 15 percent excise tax, a 10 percent special sales tax that goes to state and local governments, and a 2.9 percent state sales tax on recreational marijuana. For medical marijuana, there is a 2.9 percent state sales tax.
Pro-legalization efforts claim Colorado was successful in giving money to education. In 2014, the state collected about $87.3 million in taxes, licenses, and fees. The state vowed to give the first $40 million raised by its marijuana tax to public school construction — but only about $13.6 million was collected last year for schools.
Instead, most of the Colorado marijuana tax money goes directly into the state’s general fund, not the school-construction account, according to a USA Today report.
Advocates in Arizona claim legalization will bring in an additional $40 million a year for education. They say it would come in under the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, which allows adults 21 and older to have up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes without obtaining licenses if the plants are in a secure area. It would entail a distribution system similar to the one in Colorado, where licensed businesses can generate and sell marijuana.
They would then pay a 15 percent tax on recreational sales to be allocated to education (including full-day kindergarten) and public health.
Of those funds, 40 percent of taxes would go to the Department of Education for construction, maintenance, and operational costs at schools — including teacher compensation, according to The Arizona Republic. Another 40 percent would go toward a full-day kindergarten program, and the other 20 percent would go to the Department of Health Services for “unspecified uses.”
While the dollar signs appear to be what everyone is trying to sell in order to win votes, others firmly believe the dangers of legalization outweigh the perks of new school funding.
Legalizing marijuana in the state could create “social, educational and health damage that would outweigh all of the potential collected revenue,” Seth Leibsohn, chairman of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, told The Arizona Republic.
Backers of recreational marijuana never talk about how to pay for the other financial consequences of legalization, said Sheila Polk, vice chair of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy. There are increased addiction and treatment needs, increased emergency room visits, hospitalizations that are marijuana-related, lower academic outcomes for students, and increased marijuana-related traffic fatalities, she said. There is also underemployment and unemployment, and an increase in homelessness, among other issues.
All of this is from the “new normalcy” of marijuana use.
Arizona voters need to know what they’re voting for, said Henny Lasley, a founder of the Smart Colorado initiative, which aims to protect kids’ health in that state.
“Products can include those with exceptionally high, dangerous potencies,” she noted.
“I think if you talk to teachers and principals, most will tell you marijuana has had a negative effect at school. It isn’t as if schools see pot revenue as their savior — rather, slick pro-pot pollsters know that by saying marijuana will bring in revenue, they attract key voters,” Sabet said.
“I think it won’t be too long before most of us will look at today’s effort by the pot lobby as Big Tobacco 2.0. We will regret we were taken for another ride,” he added.