Print Discussion on pot should wait until issue is on a ballot
Written by Christopher Fox Graham   
Wednesday, 26 March 2014 12:24

Earlier this month, both the Cottonwood City Council and the Camp Verde Town Council voted to oppose the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.Managing Editor Christopher Fox Graham
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who co-chairs MATForce, an anti-drug group originally intended to battle methamphetamine, urged local municipal councils to come out against the legalization of marijuana.

The Camp Verde Town Council approved the measure 6-1. Cottonwood City Council narrowly approved the measure 3-2, with one abstention and one absence. In the interest of full disclosure, Cottonwood City Manager Doug Bartosh is MATForce’s other co-chairman.

City Councilman Terrence Pratt abstained from the vote. City Councilman Ruben Jauregui was absent from the meeting. Those who voted against the measure reportedly asked for the matter to be tabled so council could hear the other side of the argument.

Without the full council present, one can only conjecture how the vote would have gone. Had Pratt or Jauregui voted against the measure, it would have died under rules that state a tie vote is effectively a loss. Had they both voted against it, it would have been a clearer defeat for the measure. If MATForce supporters wanted to have a show of support, waiting until the full council was present would have carried more weight than a “technical” win.

All that notwithstanding, approving or rejecting recreational marijuana use is not a pressing concern for either community. Even if the matter failed council votes, residents could not light up in the parking lot.

Marijuana is still illegal in Arizona except for those card-carrying medical marijuana patients who use the drug to treat their medical ailments.

The issue came before the councils in part because there is a possibility recreational marijuana may be legalized by the Arizona State Legislature or by voters, perhaps as early as November, but more likely by the 2016 ballot. Colorado and Washington voters approved recreational marijuana use in 2012 and to tax and regulate sales, just like alcohol and tobacco.

While the possibility of the Arizona State Legislature approving recreational marijuana is a long shot, a January 2013 poll conducted by the nonpartisan Public Policy Polling found 59 percent of Arizona voters would approve marijuana use if it was limited to those over age 21 and regulated similar to alcohol.

In either case, municipal action would be moot. If the Legislature or voters approve recreational marijuana use at the state level, the best a city or town opposed to it could do would be to limit its use or sale in city or town limits.

The debate by local council should wait until recreational marijuana is actually on the ballot. Then the drug’s pros and cons could be debated alongside the actual proposed legislation.