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Our View: Legalize all drugs? Crazy ideas might lead to better policies

January 8, 2019

Let’s just get this out of the way: A Phoenix man’s proposal to make Arizona the first state in the nation to repeal all drug laws stands no chance. Not one.

It should be obvious that the legalization drive is designed to get people talking, as it should. For starters, there’s almost no money available for the campaign – proponent Travis VandenBrul says he thinks his group can get on the ballot with volunteers, but that’s a pretty big hurdle even for campaigns that are flush with cash. More importantly, it’s clear voters have no stomach for the topic. While there are many good reasons to make significant changes to the way our society handles drug crimes — decreasing our proliferating jail population chief among them — Arizona has struggled with the idea of decriminalization. Two years ago, a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana was narrowly defeated at the polls, and subsequent efforts to reignite that campaign have gone nowhere. While it’s obvious that marijuana will one day be legal in Arizona, it’s also obvious that day won’t be arriving here anytime soon.

These kind of shoot-for-the-moon ballot proposals give us all a reason to engage in serious discussions about outlandish topics, perhaps evolving the conversation in unexpected ways. Yes, legalizing all drugs sounds ridiculous at first blush. And yet, allowing government to regulate recreational drugs instead of outright banning them could help lessen risks of overdoses and dampen drug-related crimes.

No, this isn’t an endorsement of the legalization proposal, but it is an acknowledgement that current drug policy doesn’t work all that well unless our goal is to continue to grow our prison populations and give purpose to Mexican cartels. Something does need to change.

But if legalization of all drugs sours your stomach, a second initiative proposed by VandenBrul sounds downright reasonable compared to his first. It’s basically another push to legalize marijuana and hashish.

His proposed ballot measure would prohibit any taxes or regulation of pot, and would retroactively erase all prior drug convictions, erase criminal records and grant full pardons to anyone who already has been found or pleaded guilty. There’s merit to this argument, especially when the 2016 marijuana vote failed by only a few votes, and 10 other states — including our neighbors, California and Nevada — have successfully legalized recreational pot with relatively few concerns about crime. (And those states now enjoy the benefits of being on the ground floor of a burgeoning and lucrative new industry.) Arizona voters deserve another crack at changing our pot laws.

Legalization of all drugs simply won’t fly, and it shouldn’t, but it’s an idea that could be a catalyst for nuanced conversation about necessary changes to our drug laws. VandenBrul’s crazy idea might be the spark Arizona needs.

— Today’s News-Herald

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