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Ballot initiative proposal would repeal all drug laws

December 29, 2018

PHOENIX — A Phoenix resident is seeking a public vote on a proposal to make Arizona the first state in the nation to effectively repeal all drug laws.

And that even includes the ones that make it a crime to sell heroin to children.

Travis VandenBrul contends that all the current drug laws do is make criminals out of people who are simply exercising their personal rights. And he said prior legalization efforts have faltered at the ballot because they didn’t go far enough.

But even VandenBrul acknowledged that knocking down the barriers to the possession, sale and use of all currently illegal drugs may be too much for Arizona voters. So he has an alternate proposal: Eliminate only the laws on marijuana and hashish.

The measures have an uphill fight at best.

A 2016 proposal to regulate and tax marijuana for recreational use drew just 48.7 percent of the vote.

Two years later organizers were back with a more liberal proposal, this one without some of the restrictions on who could sell the drug. But that plan failed to even get enough signatures to make it to the 2018 ballot..

These new initiatives each need 356,467 valid signatures on petitions by July 2, 2020 to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Given the normal validity rate, that makes the actual requirement closer to 440,000.

VandenBrul and Mickey Jones, who is chairman of RAD — Relegalize All Drugs — admit they have no outside money. VandenBrul said he thinks it can make the ballot with volunteers.

But what they may have going for them is a vast change in public sentiment about recreational marijuana since Arizonans voted narrowly in 2010 to legalize the drug for medical use.

Ten states plus the District of Columbia now allow adult use of marijuana for any reason.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that lawmakers in 21 other states looked at the issue just this past year. And earlier this month New York Gov. Mario Cuomo proposed his state legalize recreational marijuana.

Both RAD proposals basically blow the doors off of any type of state oversight.

The first one would put a provision in the Arizona Constitution saying the state government recognizes that drug abuse “is not a criminal problem by a medical problem.’’

More to the point, it would prohibit any taxes or regulation of drugs or their use. And it would retroactively erase all prior drug convictions, erase criminal records and grant full pardons to anyone who already has been found or pleaded guilty.

The second one contains virtually identical language, but with its scope limited solely to marijuana and hashish.

VandenBrul defended creating a hands-off approach to the sale and use of drugs.

He said the 2014 measure faltered because it would have limited the number of places where recreational marijuana could be sold. It also would have given first dibs on those sites to the already existing medical marijuana dispensaries.

And he rejected the idea that voters might be more willing to legalize drugs if they saw some benefit, like increased tax revenues. That’s the kind of system that was created in Colorado.

“They still have a booming black market,’’ VandenBrul said of that state,

“The taxes are so high that the average person really can’t afford it,’’ he continued, which is why there continues to be street trade.

What that hands-off approach also means is that it would no longer be illegal for minors to purchase or use currently illegal drugs — or even for adults to sell to minors.

VandenBrul acknowledged that would make it legal for someone to stand outside a middle school and peddle drugs to 14-year-old students. But he said that doesn’t bother him.

“They do it anyway,’’ he argued. And VandenBrul said that this is an issue between children and their parents — and that youngsters “know better’’ than to buy things like that.

What that also would mean is it would be easier for minors to get marijuana or heroin than it now is for them to get alcohol or tobacco, both of which have age restrictions for purchase.

“Honestly, I would like to get rid of all those regulations,’’ VandenBrul responded. Anyway, he said, all those regulations have not kept teens from getting beer or cigarettes.

The initiative proposals could end up spurring legislative action.

Prior legalization measures in Arizona have so far failed to gain traction at the Capitol. But there is an increasing sense among some legislators that it would be better for them to craft a plan than to have one imposed through an initiative which, by virtue of voter approval, they would be constitutionally powerless to alter or fix.

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