PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A high-ranking Republican in the state House said Tuesday that lawmakers might have to get out ahead of a potential ballot measure that decriminalizes recreational marijuana.

Rep. T.J. Shope, the speaker pro tempore, said legalization might be unavoidable given the shift in public attitudes about marijuana.

For that reason, he said the Legislature might have no choice but to craft its own legislation to avoid unintended consequences from an industry-backed initiative.

[WATCH: Legalizing marijuana in Arizona]

Shope said he's waiting to see if the initiative protects business owners and empowers law enforcement to handle situations like people driving under the influence of marijuana.

"If those kinds of things aren't respected in an initiative, then we possibly will have to come in there and say, 'Look, this is a reason for us to get involved,'" Shope said.

His comments come a day after Attorney General Mark Brnovich told Capitol Media Services that he'd rather see lawmakers deal with the issue than the voters.

Laws passed by the Legislature are easier to fix if unforeseen problems arise.

Once a voter-approved measure becomes a law, it's challenging for the lawmakers to make changes.

"Generally speaking ... the public policymakers, i.e., the Legislature, should step up and address issues so voters don't have to do it via the initiative process," Brnovich told the news service.

Still, it remains to be seen if the GOP-led Legislature has the political will to legalize pot for recreational use regardless of the circumstances.

Chad Campbell, a former state lawmaker and a consultant for the marijuana ballot measure, doubts the Legislature has any desire to step into this issue.

He also predicted that the ballot language, which has not been finalized, will satisfy the concerns of lawmakers.

"We are working to craft a ballot measure that addresses most people's concerns, so it will make it unnecessary for them to pursue that," Campbell said.

While other states like Colorado and California have moved ahead with legalization, Arizona's GOP-controlled Legislature has shown little interest in following.

[RELATED: Illinois becomes the 11th state to legalize marijuana]

In the past, Democratic-sponsored bills at the Capitol to make pot legal for casual use have gone nowhere.

But there are signs that Arizona's views on the drug are changing.

A 2016 measure to legalize marijuana narrowly lost despite a well-funded opposition.

[RELATED: Pot advocates ramp up campaign to legalize recreational marijuana -- again]

And a poll released this year by OH Predictive Insights found a majority of voters favored decriminalizing.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican from Mesa, did not return calls for comment.

Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican from Prescott, said she did not want to comment on Brnovich's remarks.

Fann has been an outspoken critic of marijuana in the past and confirmed that her views have not changed.

As the top-ranking officials in the Legislature, Fann and Bowers control the agenda and will have the final say on whether any bills seeking to legalize pot will be debated.

 


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