NewsArizona News


Initiative to legalize marijuana also promises major criminal justice reform in Arizona

Posted at 5:10 PM, Oct 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-23 20:56:35-04

Legalizing marijuana is one of the big election issues on the ballot in Arizona this time. Some look at Prop 207 as much more than just the legalization of a drug. They look at this initiative as one of the most comprehensive criminal justice reform efforts in Arizona, as along with legalization would come decriminalization of marijuana.

"We are the only state in the country right now that still treats the first-time arrest of possession of marijuana as a potential felony," said Chad Campbell, the chairperson for the Prop 207 campaign.

He added that the smallest amount of marijuana in a person's possessions could lead to a felony charge filed against them. The ACLU of Arizona who is also supporting Prop 207 said that was a big issue this initiative hoped to correct.

"You're talking about tens of thousands of cases every year, costing likely millions in taxpayer money every year," said Jared Keenan, a criminal justice staff attorney with the ACLU of Arizona.

In a blog post Keenan writes:

"When prosecuted for simple marijuana possession in Maricopa County, Hispanic people are sentenced to significantly longer jail and prison sentences than their white and Black counterparts.

On average, more than seven people are arrested every day for marijuana possession in Phoenix alone and statewide, Black people are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people."

Keenan goes on to say the potential jail time, fines, and impact of having a felony now on their records has been devastating for families who have seen their livelihoods and lives destroyed over a simple non-violent offense.

"I would say legalizing marijuana is without a doubt a criminal justice reform proposal, especially in a state that penalizes it as harshly as we do," said Keenan.

Those against Prop 207 argued criminal justice reform could take place without legalizing a drug they considered harmful to society.

"You don't need 17-pages of a self-dealing proposition to deal with criminal justice," said Lisa James, chairperson of the "Vote No on Prop 207" campaign.

James said she has been analyzing numbers provided by the state Department of Corrections for months.

"The last data that I looked at was from August of this year. Out of 140,000 people in prison 102 were there for marijuana only related charges," said James.

She added that Arizona judges had a history of offering diversion programs and treatment to non-violent drug offenders. But Keenan said their studies showed those who were Hispanic or Black had less of a possibility of getting a reprieve from the courts. Also, those who could not afford to post bond would end up stuck in jail until the date of their court hearing for a non-violent offense.

James said she agreed criminal justice reform needed to be addressed in Arizona, but she believed that was something that could be handled at the legislative level, and not through an initiative to legalize marijuana.

"This proposition was written by, funded by, and will benefit the big marijuana industry," said James.

Prop 207 promises to legalize and decriminalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of pot. It would also create an expungement process, so those who have had felony charges filed against them in the past could work to get it off their records. Having a felony charge on your record could impact everything from keeping a job, to getting housing, and create child custody issues.

The initiative also promises to set aside more than two dozen licenses to promote the ownership of marijuana businesses by minority community members who, studies show, have been most impacted by the criminalization of marijuana.

You can read Keenan's blog on the ACLU of Arizona website here.

For more on the concerns raised by those against the initiative go to