According to the campaign to legalize marijuana use in the state of Arizona, the legalization and taxation of the drug in the state could raise as much as $40 million in additional funding for the public school system each year.
Supporters of the campaign met on the steps of the state Capitol last week, symbolically offering the state an oversized check written out in the amount of $40 million. J.P. Holyoak, chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, presented the check alongside two Democratic state representatives and several teachers.
"We have a choice," Holyoak told reporters at the "Back to School" news conference. "We can either tax and regulate marijuana for the benefit of education and public healthcare, or we can keep it illegal for the benefit of drug cartels."
The campaign is currently gathering signatures in an effort to be included on the 2016 ballot. If the group is successful, they would like to see the creation of a number of cannabis shops that could tax the drug.
The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act would allow any adult age 21 and over to carry 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to 6 plants for their own use without obtaining a license, as long as the plants are located in a secure area. A distribution system much like the one in Colorado would be implemented as well. The system offers licensed businesses the opportunity to grow and sell the drug while also paying a 15% tax on any retail sales with the funds going to the state education system.
Campaign supporters suggest using half of the money raised in the state of Arizona to fund school operations and maintenance while using the other half to fund an all-day kindergarten program.
As of earlier this month, petition-gatherers for the campaign had already collected around 50,000 signatures. The goal is to gain 250,000 signatures by a deadline of July 2016.
State leaders have long debated funding solutions for Arizona's education system. According to a recent US Bureau report, the state spent $7,208 per student in fiscal 2013, which is far below the national average of $10,700.
Current spending on education in the state totals $10 billion including state, federal, and other sources.
However, some do not believe the campaign would bring about positive change. Pollster Bruce Merrill argued that problems with the system exist in Colorado where tax revenue has fallen short of expectations.
Seth Leibsohn, Chairman of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, argues that the negative aspects of marijuana use would outweigh any benefits seen for the school system. He suggested that legalization of the drug would not only put educational outcomes in jeopardy, but would also create "social, educational and health damage that would outweigh all of the potential collected revenue."
"Given the costs of treatment, addiction, suspensions, expulsions, drop-outs, accidents, hospitalizations, I would submit a bill to the state for hundreds of millions of dollars with their check," Leibsohn said, referring to the jumbo-sized $40 million check the campaign symbolically presented to the state.