Alberto Olivas welcomes people to the debate

Pastor Center co-hosts debate on marijuana initiative

Should Arizona legalize marijuana? It's a decision that Arizona voters will make in November. And it was the focus of a thoughtful discussion sponsored by Valley Leadership and the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Policy, part of the ASU College of Public Service and Community Solutions. The event drew about 75 people, including many former Valley Leadership class members to the downtown Phoenix ASU Mercado campus.

“I think that it’s a credible source,” said nonprofit leader Connie Phillips. “ASU. Valley Leadership. Obviously, I’ve gone through Valley Leadership so I see it as a credible organization that’s going to put on a balanced presentation.”

Pastor Center director Alberto Olivas welcomed attendees. He talked about the importance of not only voting, but of being an informed voter. A key mission of the center is getting students and members of the community involved in the political process. Olivas played a video produced by students from ASU’s Projects in Community-Based Theater. The graduate students used small toy dinosaurs to explain Proposition 205, which is officially titled “Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana.” The video ends with the words “An informed decision is a good decision.”

Olivas then introduced the moderator of the debate, Rebekah Sanders, a congressional reporter for the Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. Joining Sanders were Ashley Rea Kilroy, the executive director of the City of Denver's Marijuana Policy Office, J.P. Holyoak, the owner of a marijuana dispensary and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

Ashley Rea Sanders, marijuana policy executive director for the city and county of Denver

Ashley Rea Sanders, executive director of marijuana policy for the city and county of Denver joined Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, left, and pot dispensary owner J.P. Holyoak at a debate over a ballot measure that would legaiize marijuana in Arizona.

Sanders asked Kilroy to talk about Colorado's experience with legal marijuana. Appearing via webcam from Denver, Kilroy told the audience that marijuana use in Colorado remained flat and that marijuana-related crime was relatively unchanged since Colorado voters approved legal marijuana in 2012. Kilroy also pointed out differences between Colorado’s voter initiative and Arizona’s-- mainly that Arizona limits the number of plants a person can grow at one time to six, 12 total in a household. She said that in Colorado, cities and counties could decide whether to allow recreational marijuana use. She noted that’s not the case in Arizona. The initiative approves the sale of recreational marijuana by existing marijuana dispensaries located throughout the state.

Holyoak told the audience about his introduction to medical marijuana as the parent of an infant who suffered from seizures. He argued the war on drugs is a failure and that it’s better to take money away from drug cartels and putting it into the economy by legalizing marijuana. He pointed out that marijuana tax revenues would go to public education and programs that combat drug abuse.

Montgomery talked about the increase in drug-related deaths in states that legalized marijuana. He stressed the danger posed by legal marijuana, including edible products and suggested the proposition was more about profit for certain individuals than sound public policy.

“I liked hearing some of the extra details around both sides,” said Phoenix resident Andy Forsell. “I still think the answers are too simplistic to really encompass how complex of an issue this really is.”

Valley Leadership and the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Policy team up again for a debate on Prop 206: Minimum Wage and Paid Time Off. The event will be held Tuesday morning, October 4 from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. at the ASU Mercado building in downtown Phoenix.