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Arizona OKs recreational pot, schools tax hike undecided

November 4, 2020 GMT

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona on Tuesday joined states across the nation that have legalized recreational marijuana in a repudiation of its Republican leadership. Another ballot measure proposing a new tax on the wealthy to fund education was too early to call.

Approval of the marijuana measure, Proposition 207, came four years after voters narrowly defeated a recreational pot legalization proposal. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and fellow Republicans in the Legislature had refused to change Arizona’s tough marijuana laws.

“This shows they’ve been out of step on this issue in two ways in terms of people’s opinions about the product itself and the personal use of this product and, secondly, just the need for criminal justice reform in Arizona,” said Chad Campbell, chairman of the committee that backed the measure.

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Recreational marijuana will become legal in the state when election results are certified in about a month.

Retail sales could start in May and people will be allowed to grow their own plants. People 21 and older can possess up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana or a smaller quantity of “concentrates” such as hashish.

Voters in New Jersey and South Dakota also approved recreational marijuana, and Montana had a measure on its ballot. Medical marijuana initiatives passed in South Dakota and Mississippi.

The Smart and Safe Arizona Act levies a 16% excise tax on pot and could bring in an estimated $255 million in new revenue annually when combined with sales tax, according to legislative analysts.

The money will fund community colleges, police and fire agencies, transportation projects, and public health and criminal justice programs.

Supporters argued it was time to rescind Arizona’s punitive penalties on marijuana, ensure quality control through state testing, and decrease crime associated with smuggling and illicit sales.

Opponents said legalization will make workplaces less safe, increase teen drug use and fill roads with stoned drivers. The opposition included many of Arizona’s Republican elected officials, including Ducey, and conservative groups.

“It’s going to be very important, especially for parents and employers to really read carefully, understand that this is higher potency marijuana that is going to be available, and their options are going to be limited now that it has been legalized,” said Lisa James, a spokeswoman for Arizonans for Health and Public Safety.

Page resident Adrian Augustine, 40, feared more widespread and legal use of marijuana would lead to social ills like those tied to alcohol use on the Navajo Nation where he grew up.

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“For recreational use, I don’t see it as a good thing,” said Augustine, a pawn broker.

Flagstaff resident Chris Nylen said her support for the measure evolved as she saw her dog’s arthritis and anxiety ease because of CBD pills prescribed by a veterinarian.

“I personally don’t have a desire for it, but (I’m) seeing the benefits for my dog,” she said.

The second Arizona ballot measure, Proposition 208, was too early to call because not enough votes have been counted. It is designed to boost pay for teachers and support staff, fund teacher training and education, and increase career and technical education.

The additional 3.5% tax would be levied on income above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples. The new tax would cost the average taxpayer earning between $500,000 and $1 million an extra $5,459 yearly, analysts said.

The Invest in Education Act is the latest outgrowth from a statewide teacher strike two years ago that highlighted low wages for educators and a slow rebound from budget cuts enacted after the Great Recession.

Opponents have said it would bring only partial relief for cash-strapped schools and hurt the economy, particularly small businesses.

Mike Bright, who lives in Waddell northwest of Phoenix, and his wife home school their eight children. He didn’t see a reason to raise taxes for a system that he said is indoctrinating.

“The best thing we can do — and I know everyone can’t do it — is to teach our children ourselves,” said the 44-year-old mechanical designer.

Supporters have said it could raise about $940 million a year for schools, although the Legislature’s budget analysts estimated it would bring in $827 million a year.

Georgianne Weiss, a 70-year-old early childhood education teacher in Phoenix, said she hopes funding would go directly to school districts, and they’ll be accountable for the spending.

“I know I’ve spent quite a bit of money on my own to put the features I want in my classroom to teach, the tools and things I know my children would be engaged with,” Weiss said.

The Legislature has pumped significant cash into schools in recent years, including a 20% percent pay raise over three years that was prompted by the strike.

But schools were never repaid billions they lost in cuts over the past decade and Arizona’s teachers remain among the lowest-paid in the nation.

___ Christie reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report. ___

Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.