Joining the effort to try to head off a planned 2016 initiative to legalize marijuana in Arizona, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution Monday opposing the legalization of marijuana.
The county is the second local government to sign on to the resolution, after the Prescott Valley Town Council. By getting signatures of governments throughout the state, the local MatForce coalition against drug abuse seeks to send a message that the initiative petition drive isn't welcome here.
"We need to make ourselves a hard target for the Marijuana Policy Project," Yavapai County Attorney and MatForce co-chair Sheila Polk told the supervisors.
"We are about to take on our biggest challenge," MatForce Director Merilee Fowler said of her group. "The reason is, we care about our kids."
The Marijuana Policy Project plans to organize a petition drive to get a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot, its Communications Director Mason Tvert said over the phone from the group's Denver headquarters. The same group organized the successful drive for legalized medical marijuana here.
The MatForce resolution says teen use of marijuana is on the rise in Arizona since 2007, and 2012 was the first time in state history that teens smoked more pot than cigarettes over the previous 30 days.
Another 32,000 teens would be more likely to smoke marijuana if it was legal, the resolution adds. Polk said that estimate comes from an Arizona Criminal Justice Commission analysis of statistics from a Partnership for a Drug-Free America (now The Partnership at Drugfree.org) annual attitude tracking survey.
Marijuana harms adolescent brains and can cause a drop in IQ, the resolution adds.
While the supervisors approved the resolution without much comment (Supervisor Jack Brown was absent), plenty of supporters and a few opponents stood up to talk from the audience. Some had relevant personal stories.
"Marijuana was a gateway drug for me," said Bill Orizk, who works at a local recovery home. "It led me to many addictions throughout my life."
Supervisor Craig Brown agreed it is a gateway drug, saying he has a sibling who was addicted to heroin and started with marijuana and prescriptions.
Greg Mengarelli said he's seen the negative effects of marijuana on his foster children over the years, too.
"It does break up families," said Rachel Montagne, a county juvenile probation worker who said many of her family members are addicts.
While a dozen people spoke in support of the resolution, two spoke against it.
"I was hoping the board would consider all sides of this issue," said Starr Bennett, calling herself a 64-year-old medical marijuana cardholder from Paulden who was unjustly charged with marijuana felonies.
Pamela Shepherd of Paulden questioned whether the supervisors were speaking for their citizens when even U.S. Sen. John McCain said it might be time to legalize marijuana. McCain reportedly told the Daily Star in Tucson, "Maybe we should legalize. We're certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people."
The latest Gallup poll reported in October that 58 percent of U.S. adults support legalization, an increase of 10 percent over the previous year.
The Marijuana Policy Project plans to help organize 2016 ballot petition drives in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada, too, Tvert said.
"It's clear the majority of voters in these states think it's time to end marijuana prohibition," and stop spending money to prosecute people, he said.
Sheriff Scott Mascher noted that law enforcement officers take oaths to uphold the law, and marijuana would remain illegal under federal law no matter what Arizona does.
Posted: Monday, March 17, 2014
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These people say that they want to continue the present system to protect our children. Under our current system 43% of our high school students have reported that they have used marijuana (2011 figures). Our kids have reported for many years now on the government's own SAMHSA drug surveys that it is easier for them to get marijuana than it is to get alcohol or tobacco. This happens because people ask for ID's before alcohol or tobacco are sold. With our current unregulated system drug dealers not only sell marijuana to our kids but many other substances that can addict and kill them. In a regulated market marijuana will be inspected to make sure that it doesn't contain adulterants. In a regulated market, marijuana will not be sold to kids because ID's will be checked. In a regulated market people will not have to buy from violent criminals. We can improve things for kids by making sure that we make marijuana just as difficult to get as we do alcohol and tobacco.