Marijuana-legalization supporters tout economic benefits in new voter pitch

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In an effort to win broader voter backing ahead of the November presidential election, supporters of legalizing marijuana are presenting their case to the American people through an economic lens. 

Advocates argue new legal sales and excise taxes would help states weather economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic — a marked shift from previous messaging that focused on social and racial justice.

Residents of five states are set to assess seven associated ballot measures, and proponents of legalization are touting cannabis as a new source of revenue for state governments, hoping to win over holdouts.

POLL SHOWS ARIZONANS SUPPORT LEGALIZING MARIJUANA

Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., is a supporter of the popular Proposition 207 ballot measure — or the Smart and Safe Arizona Act — which would allow adults 21 and older to possess as much as an ounce of marijuana, approve sales at 130 medical marijuana dispensaries, and allow those previously convicted of crimes that would no longer be illegal under the act to have their records wiped clean.

According to The Arizona Republic, Prop. 207 would also place a 16% excise tax on sales and provide 26 retail licenses to “those historically disadvantaged by marijuana laws.”

In this Feb. 14, 2019 photo, Colton Welch, a junior at the State University of New York at Morrisville, N.Y., tends hydroponic tomato plants which will provide students with data applicable to cannabis cultivation. (AP Photo/Marry Esch)

In this Feb. 14, 2019 photo, Colton Welch, a junior at the State University of New York at Morrisville, N.Y., tends hydroponic tomato plants which will provide students with data applicable to cannabis cultivation. (AP Photo/Marry Esch)

“From a criminal justice perspective, the revenue that we should be worried about is the fact that we’re not going to be destroying a lot of young men’s lives for carrying a small amount of marijuana,” Gallego told The Hill on Friday. “I do think our marijuana laws are used by police to target young males of color, particularly Black men.”

Arizona began early voting on Oct. 7 and has seen record turnout

A September Suffolk University/USA TODAY Network live-interview poll found support for Prop. 207 at 45.6% versus 34.2% opposed.

Monmouth University and Phoenix-based OH Predictive Insights polls show the measure passing by 18 and 20-percentage point margins.

Conversely, four years ago, Arizona voters rejected Proposition 205, a similar measure, by 2.5 percentage points. 

Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Montana would potentially legalize marijuana for recreational use, while South Dakota and Mississippi would legalize medicinal marijuana.

Public sentiment on legalization has evolved over the past couple of decades and Gallup polls from 20 years ago through last year show approval has jumped from less than a third to two-thirds of Americans.

Opponents of legalization — like anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana — have run on a two-pronged platform, asserting legalization will lead to an increase in intoxicated driving cases and that corporations supporting legalization campaigns would rake in the profits

In a quote on the organization’s website, Colorado’s former Director of Marijuana Coordination Andrew Freedman said that legalization for taxation is a “myth.” 

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“You are not going to pave streets. You are not going to be able to pay teachers,” said Freedman. “The big red herring is the whole thing that the tax revenue will solve a bunch of crises. But it won’t.”

The recreational use of marijuana is currently legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia and some cannabis products are legal for medical use in over 30 states. 

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