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Arizona Voters Approve Measure To Legalize, Tax Pot

By Asha Glover · November 3, 2020, 11:22 PM EST

Arizona voters approved legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older Tuesday, with the revenue planned to fund several state expenses, including the state's highway fund.

Voters passed Proposition 207, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act. The initiative allows adults to possess up to an ounce of recreational marijuana and imposes a 16% excise tax on its sale, in addition to the state's transaction privilege tax, which acts as a sales tax. The initiative is expected to raise an estimated $300 million annually in new revenue that would primarily fund colleges, police and fire departments and the state's highway fund, according to the campaign that backed the initiative. Medical marijuana is already legal in the state.

As of late Tuesday, the proposition was approved 60% to 40% with 73% of the votes reported. 

Smart and Safe Arizona, which backed the measure, said it will create thousands of jobs across the state. The measure will also provide the state Department of Health Services with millions of dollars annually for addiction prevention substance abuse treatment, suicide prevention, mental health programs and other justice investment projects, according to the campaign.

Opponents of the initiative, including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, argued that legalizing recreational marijuana would create public safety issues and result in higher expenses to oversee the new industry. They also said that studies have shown legalizing marijuana can increase other expenses that aren't initially accounted for, such as funding for additional highway patrols and medical care, which can offset certain gains from the increased tax revenue.

The opposition launched several attempts through legal actions to thwart the initiative, and seven residents challenged the measure in a state court, claiming that the summary was misleading on several fronts, including that it didn't specify that the 16% excise tax rate would be fixed. They also challenged the summary's description of the impairment standard for receiving an offense for driving under the influence of marijuana.

The Arizona Supreme Court in August affirmed the Maricopa County Superior Court's decision to toss the challenge. The lower court had said that the residents' claims amounted to policy arguments against the initiative and that the summary accurately portrayed the question's purpose of asking voters to legalize recreational cannabis.

The approval of the measure comes after Arizona voters narrowly defeated a similar initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in November 2016, with 51.3% of voters rejecting that ballot question.

Along with Arizona, New Jersey voters also legalized recreational marijuana for adults Tuesday. Questions to legalize recreational marijuana also appeared on ballots in Montana and South Dakota.

--Editing by Neil Cohen.

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