Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

Risky Business

10-25-2020Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

It’s Election time again and that means for us in AZ: Ballot Propositions. Arizona law makes it rather easy to get a Proposition on the Ballot for Voter approval/disapproval but at the same time makes it very difficult to change, refine or tweak Voter Approved Ballot Propositions. If there are unintended consequences or problems with a Voter Approved Proposition it is a real heavy lift for the legislature to make any changes, requiring a 75% majority in both Houses.

Case in point Proposition 207, not the current Proposition on the Ballot but Prop 207 that was Voter approved in 2006. That Proposition greatly restricted municipalities ability to change zoning requirements to prevent or restrict private development. For us in Tempe, this is now becoming a challenge.

The City of Tempe was developing an Urban Core Master Plan for the next 20years. They project that during that time the population of Tempe will double. If you are thinking it seems to be getting crowded around here, well that’s because it is. As you drive around Tempe you notice lots of apartment buildings going up, new business construction and lots of traffic. Forward thinking City planning can help alleviate congestion, keep open spaces for the community and also consider the environmental impact of a denser population: sewage and waste, the water supply, $re and emergency, medical facilities, schools as well as other essential services needed for an urban population. City officials admit that 2006’s Prop 207 ties their hands and restricts their ability to plan effectively and efficiently. Therefore, private developers can’t be required to develop affordable housing (the lack of which increases homelessness) or community spaces or historic preservation. Tempe had to scrap the Master Plan because of a lack of community consensus and is now starting over. One of the problems is that despite the frustration of a lot of Tempe residents over the huge growth and construction, little can be done about it because of Voter Approved Proposition 207 in 2006.

Back in 2006 it was hard to predict how a Ballot Proposition would impact life in 2020. But it is and in a negative way. Despite their best attempts at managing the explosive growth of the area, Prop 207 in 2006 hamstrings their efforts. Residents may not like what they see in terms of development but unless Prop 207 is repealed by another Ballot initiative, grumbling and complaining, and living with the challenges that a doubling of the city population brings, is the way it is.

This example shows why Ballot Propositions are risky business and in general a bad idea. They circumvent the legislative process, they are often deceptively written and marketed so that voters aren’t always sure what they are voting for or against.

This is the case with the 2020 Ballot Proposition 207. This one makes marijuana and hashish available for retail sale. The Proposition is 17 pages long and its long-term effects are negative to our State. It will not bring in lots of tax revenue as it claims. In fact, the Proposition as written puts a cap on the tax rate for the marijuana industry in AZ. It will not be kept out of the hands of young people (we know that since Medical Marijuana is easy to obtain for those underage), the State cannot regulate the potency of marijuana products that are smoked or vaped by the language in 207. Speaking of which, many people worked long and hard to pass the Smoke Free AZ Act which greatly restricts tobacco usage but that will go up in smoke if Prop 207 passes.

Looking into the future, we can reasonably predict the long-term effects of legalized recreational marijuana sales and usage in AZ. Just look at other states that have legalized it: increased substance abuse, increased DUI, increased health costs associated with marijuana use, increased crime, homelessness and child neglect are among the negative consequences that we can look forward to if 207 passes. What we know from the long-term data now available is that there is a direct link between marijuana use and mental illness and violence. Despite how it may be portrayed in the media, marijuana is not harmless.

One final point, Prop 207 is not about decriminalizing marijuana, this is about making it legal for retail sale. (You can decriminalize without making it legal for retail sale.) Many people are concerned that arrests for marijuana disproportionately affect the minority community especially blacks. But the harms from marijuana use also disproportionately fall on the black community in terms of higher rates of cannabis use disorder, cannabis induced schizophrenia and psychosis and violence. No community stands to benefit from legalized recreational use marijuana, lest of all the black community. However, there is a small group of very wealthy investors who stand to become fabulously wealthy off of the retail sale of marijuana and the suffering of many people. No on 207.


Fr. John B