Tobacco Taxes Boosted; Judges Can Get Tougher

Arizonans turned thumbs down to both pot and tobacco Tuesday,
defeating a ballot proposition liberalizing marijuana laws while
approving a measure hiking the tax on tobacco, according to unofficial
returns.

They also passed a separate proposition letting judges get tough on
drug offenders who refuse treatment.

Proposition 203, which would have decriminalized possession of small
amounts of pot and required the state to distribute pot for free for
medical reasons, was defeated by a wide margin.

In contrast, Proposition 302, launched by opponents of liberalized
marijuana laws, won by a more than 2-1 ratio.

Proposition 303, which will raise the tobacco tax on cigarettes and
other tobacco products, also passed about 2-1.

"A defeat (of 203) will have national ramifications," Maricopa County
Attorney Rick Romley said Tuesday evening. Romley led opposition to
the measure and helped launch Proposition 302.

Proposition 203 was funded chiefly by University of Phoenix founder
John Sperling and investors George Soros and Peter Lewis, who also
have financed 19 initiatives in other states. The measure revisited an
issue in contention across the country for years.

In 1996, Arizonans approved a proposition mandating treatment rather
than jail for certain drug offenders and permitting use of pot for
medical purposes. However, the Legislature repealed the medical
section of the new law.

In 1998, the voters again approved medical marijuana, but federal
officials blocked it by threatening doctors who might prescribe the
drug.

This year, supporters said a new proposition was needed to ensure that
free marijuana would be available for patients suffering from cancer
and other painful, debilitating diseases.

Proposition 203 also would have decriminalized possession of 2 ounces
of pot or less and enacted tougher penalties for people who committed
violent crimes while under the influence of marijuana.

Both leading gubernatorial candidates, Matt Salmon and Janet
Napolitano, rejected 203.

Romley helped launch Proposition 302, which will let judges send
first- and second-time drug offenders to jail if they refuse treatment.

"This is the hammer we needed to get some people off heroin and
amphetamine," he said Tuesday.

About Proposition 203, Romley said, "Every state is watching Arizona
because the tide will have turned. People will say: "Is it really
about medical marijuana, or is it about drug legalization?' "

Proposition 303 also revisited a long-running issue, but one with
considerably less controversy.

The measure will increase the tobacco tax by 60 cents per pack for
cigarettes, as well as on other tobacco products. Supporters said it
will raise about $150 million a year for low-income healthcare, trauma
centers and medical research.

"It's a sense of relief that we won," said Bill Pfeifer, president and
CEO of the American Lung Association of Arizona. Arizona will benefit
and lives will be saved.

"Now the real work begins. We need to be responsible in collecting the
money and delivering it back to the people."

Cathy Danielson, 40, of Lake Havasu City, who had her larynx removed
because of smoking-related cancer and appeared in commercials in
support of the proposal, said she was thrilled the measure passed.

"I started smoking at 13," she said, "and smoked up to the doors of
the hospital."

Source: Arizona Republic (AZ)
Webpage: http://www.arizonarepublic.com/news/articles/1106pot06.html
Copyright: 2002 The Arizona Republic
Contact: opinions@arizonarepublic.com
Website: http://www.arizonarepublic.com/