Backers of a proposed 2016 ballot initiative to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol estimate the measure would raise more than $40 million annually for education in Arizona. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol highlighted the potential revenue Wednesday by presenting the state with a jumbo-sized check during a "back-to-school" news conference in front of the state capitol.
"Our schools are in serious need of funding, and taxing marijuana would create a significant new revenue stream," said State Sen. Martin Quezada, a member of the Pendergast Elementary School District Governing Board who spoke at the news conference. "Marijuana sales are going to keep taking place regardless of whether this initiative passes or fails. But only if it passes will they raise tens of millions of dollars each year for public education in Arizona."
The proposed initiative would enact a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales from licensed retail stores to adults 21 years of age and older, which would be used to fund the implementation and enforcement of regulations. Of any additional tax revenue collected, 40% would be allocated to the Department of Education for school construction, maintenance, and operating costs, and 40% would be allocated to the Department of Education for full-day kindergarten programs.
"Generating revenue for our schools isn't the only reason to pass this initiative, but it's an important one," said Lisa Olson, a Mesa teacher who participated in the news conference. "I support it because it will not only improve public education, but also public safety. Regulating marijuana would replace dealers on the streets with store clerks who ask for ID and only sell to adults."
The revenue estimate is based on Colorado marijuana sales figures adjusted for differences in state population and marijuana consumption rates according to federal survey data. Total retail marijuana sales in Colorado exceeded $253 million in the first six months of 2015, generating approximately $16.6 million for public school construction, according to the state Department of Revenue.
The campaign must collect more than 150,000 valid signatures of registered Arizona voters to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. The campaign has collected about 60,000 total signatures since its petition drive launched in May.
"We're finding a lot of support among parents," said J.P. Holyoak, a parent and the chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "They don't only see it as more money for schools, but also more control over marijuana. Marijuana should be sold by businesses that pay taxes and follow laws, not by cartels and criminals that evade them."
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The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is supporting a 2016 statewide ballot initiative to end marijuana prohibition in Arizona and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol. For more information, visit http://www.RegulateMarijuanaAZ.org.