Rep. Thorpe goes on offensive to stop efforts to legalize marijuana

Rep. Bob Thorpe

Rep. Bob Thorpe

PHOENIX -- A Flagstaff lawmaker is hoping to throw a new roadblock in the path of those who want to legalize marijuana in Arizona.

Only thing is, his plan may be too little -- and too late.

The measure by Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe would spell out that any voter-sponsored initiative that proposed anything that conflicts with federal law could take effect only if approved by 75 percent of those who cast ballots. Right now, a simple majority is all that is needed.

Thorpe told Capitol Media Services he has one particular measure in mind: a proposal by the Marijuana Policy Project to get voters here to adopt a Colorado-style law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

He pointed out that marijuana use remains illegal under federal law. Yet Arizona voters decided in 2010, by a margin of just 4,340 votes, to allow the use of the drug for medical purposes.

And now there is an effort to expand that.

So far, though, the Obama administration and the Department of Justice have shown little interest in pursuing either the sellers or the buyers of the drug. Thorpe said that does not make it right.

"In our federal Constitution, you look at the requirements of the president,' he said.

"One of those requirements, his duties, is to uphold law,' Thorpe continued. "In a number of cases, he's chosen to turn his back.'

More to the point, he said if Arizona is to thumb its nose at federal law, it should require more than a simple majority vote.

But the change Thorpe wants would require an amendment to the Arizona Constitution. And that has to be approved by voters, something that would go on the ballot in 2016 -- the same election where voters would be deciding whether to legalize recreational use of the drug.

What that means, Thorpe conceded, is that even if voters approve his change, the marijuana measure approved concurrently could become law with a simple majority.

"I might be late to the race on this one,' he said. But Thorpe is undeterred, saying he thinks it should be more difficult for voters to propose and approve their own laws and constitutional amendments.

Thorpe acknowledged that his position on federal supremacy, at least on the issue of drug use, could be seen at odds with stances he has taken in prior years challenging federal authority. And he said he is a supporter of the concept that the states are sovereign and the federal government has only the powers the states have given them through the federal Constitution.

But he sidestepped the question of where the federal government gets the right to tell voters of Arizona -- or any other state -- that they cannot use marijuana.

"My concern is almost larger than just marijuana,' Thorpe said. He said once the state goes down this path, what's to stop voters from deciding to allow the use of heroin and LSD.

If Thorpe gets legislative approval of HCR 2027, that does not end the matter. As a constitutional change the last word belongs to voters.

But it will take just a simple majority at the ballot to make that constitutional amendment.

"There's some wonderful irony there,' Thorpe agreed.

His proposal contains one other troublesome point: How to decide ahead of time if a ballot measure conflicts with federal law and needs more than a simple majority.

Thorpe said it is clear that the 2010 medical marijuana law is in conflict -- and would have failed had his measure been in place because it did not get the 75 percent margin. But several state judges have since upheld the voter-approved law, ruling it is not preempted by federal law.

Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.


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