Arizona state Rep. Ethan Orr wants to legalize marijuana. He wants it so badly he plans to continue the fight when he leaves public office in January.
After Orr lost his seat in a three-way election race tighter than a well-packed bowl, the Republican’s new plan is to team with advocates on a push for legalization in Arizona.
A report from the legislature on the likely prosperity from legalization will help.
Arizona lawmakers introduced a bill in April to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. Thirteen state representatives sponsored HB 2558, but it didn’t go far. After reading it into the record, leadership referred it to the House Rules Committee, where it languished.
The bill’s status on Legiscan, a legislation tracking website, lists the measure as “died in committee.” Before that happened, however, lawmakers ordered a study of retail marijuana revenue projections.
Jeremy Gunderson, a fiscal analyst for the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, estimates in the report obtained by The Cannabist that legalization would bring $48.3 million to state coffers in 2016. He based the number on the proposed bill’s revenue terms. Orr said he thinks that number is light.
“If you draft it in an intelligent manner,” Orr said by phone, “I think you’re going to generate $200 to $250 million in revenue.”
Gunderson used available data to estimate that the state would have about 543,000 marijuana users in 2016. He arrived at the revenue projection using Washington State Liquor Control Board reports on daily marijuana use estimates.
The WSLCB said that marijuana users consume between 0.3 and 1.6 grams of marijuana a day. After factoring in out-of-state visitors, Gunderson estimated Arizona would need more than 90 tons of marijuana annually to meet demand.
Orr would prefer legalization to go through the legislature so lawmakers can adjust regulations as needed. The state’s Voter Protection Act makes changes impossible on voter-approved legislation, and he points to lingering confusion in the medical marijuana industry over the initiative.
However, when asked if there’s any chance of the legislature passing a legalization bill, he responded with a flat, “No.”
“I have enough (votes) to pass it,” Orr said. “but I don’t have anyone who’s courageous enough to sponsor it.”
In 2010, voters passed Proposition 203 allowing medical marijuana, without legislative support. Orr is worried that history will repeat itself.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a national advocacy and lobbying group, drafted the 2010 initiative and funded the campaign to get it passed. The same group formed an Arizona ballot committee in September to begin fundraising for legalization in 2016, and Orr takes the pragmatic view that the initiative would pass.
Orr has been talking to dispensary owners and other interested parties about whether to get involved with the initiative and now that he is out of hist state job come January, he said he’s likely to head that direction.
MPP legislative analyst Chris Lindsey said in an email that Arizona is flushing marijuana revenue “down the toilet into the underground market,” by not legalizing.
“Marijuana should be produced and sold by legitimate, taxpaying businesses,” Lindsey said. “not cartels.”
Orr hasn’t worked with MPP, but Lindsey said that the departing state representative would be welcome. He pointed out that they want input from community leaders, especially ones with lawmaking experience.