PHOENIX — Arizona legislators should legalize recreational marijuana before voters do according to State Rep. Mark Cardenas. The lawmaker recently began working on a bill to legalize the personal use of marijuana.
Cardenas said he believes the legislature needs to be proactive when it comes to legalizing pot because it is easier to change a legislative bill than it is a ballot initiative passed by voters.
“In order to change (a voter referendum or initiative) we have to have 75 percent of the legislature agree to that change and so with something that is as controversial as marijuana you are not going to get 75 percent of the legislature to fix it,” Cardenas said.
Arizona’s Voter Protection Act prevents the legislature or governor from tampering with a ballot initiative or referendum passed by voters.
Being unable to change voter-passed marijuana laws could lead to some unintended consequences like a poorly regulated and taxed system according to Cardenas.
“It is time to be a little bit smarter about marijuana use and a system of taxation and regulation and say ‘you know what, this is going to happen, we are a group of 90 smart people so let’s get together and see how we can best implement this system,'” he said.
State legislators have an obligation to listen to the will of the voters according to Cardenas and he believes the majority of Arizonans want marijuana prohibition to end.
“As of right now over 50 percent of the population in Arizona wants it and so this is one of those things that we have to put our egos aside and come to the table and … come up with the best method to make this happen and deploy it in Arizona,” he said.
Despite Cardenas push within the legislature to legalize recreational pot in 2015, marijuana advocates are taking matters into their own hands.
Members of the Marijuana Policy Project (MMP) do not believe the state legislature will pass Cardenas’ bill so they are currently drafting a voter initiative to legalize marijuana in 2016.
“State officials are elected by voters and if they are not going to get this measure passed in the legislature than the voters can do it directly and that is why there is a voter initiative process,” Mason Tvert, Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said.
Though MMP would support a legislative bill legalizing marijuana, Tvert said ending marijuana prohibition in Arizona will likely only happen through a voter-passed initiative.
“Voters tend to be a little out front of elected officials when it comes to issues like this and we want to see this change made as soon as possible,” he said.
Due to Arizona’s Voter Protection Act, a voter initiative legalizing recreational pot use would put power in the public’s hands instead of a handful of lawmakers according to Tvert.