The next state general election will not occur until November, but backers of a ballot proposal to legalize the use of medical marijuana in Arizona claim to be well on their way to qualifying the measure for the 2010 ballot.
Andrew Myers, a manager for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, said the campaign so far has collected approximately 125,000 voter signatures from 450 independently contracted collectors.
That’s still below the needed 153,365 required signatures due with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office by next July. But plenty of time remains.
“This is going incredibly well and better than I would have anticipated,” said Myers, who was a staffer for former Governor Janet Napolitano. Myers expects the group ultimately will amass 250,000 signatures.
Under the proposal, Arizonans with qualifying medical conditions and symptoms would be permitted by Arizona Department of Health Services to obtain limited amounts of marijuana for personal use from state-regulated dispensaries.
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project would protect patients, doctors and caregivers of patients that suffer from diseases such as cancer, AIDS, HIV, Alzheimer’s, Hepatitis C and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis from prosecution under state and federal law.
Glaucoma patients and others ailing from diseases or medical treatments that cause severe and chronic pain, nausea, seizures, muscle spasms and severe loss of muscle mass also would be permitted to use marijuana with the recommendation of a doctor and department consent.
The Arizona ballot proposal follows the spirit of California’s Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which legalized medical-marijuana use and ultimately led to the formation of hundreds of pot dispensaries throughout the state.
Since then, the Marijuana Policy Project has emerged as the nation’s primary advocate and cash register for pro-marijuana laws and initiative efforts. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit has an estimated 23,000 contributors and operates an annual budget of approximately $5 million, according to Guidestar, a private corporation that monitors charities.
Theoretically, the campaign for medical marijuana use in Arizona, which includes the multi-state marketing firm Reister, could be forced to compete for donations with a recently launched ballot effort to decriminalize all adult use of marijuana in California.
The California drive is supported by the Marijuana Policy Project, and the two entities are engaging in discussions about what role the national group will play in the drive to legalize marijuana, said Doug Linney, a campaign coordinator for the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010.
The national group so far has contributed $110,000 to the Arizona ballot effort, although the committee has not received a contribution for several months.
Signature collections in California would begin Sept. 24, said Linney, adding most of the group’s funding has come from marijuana dispensary owner Richard Lee, who is also managing the campaign.
In California, ballot initiative committees are not required to disclose their financial sources until a measure qualifies for the ballot. Backers of the marijuana initiative must turn in 433,971 signatures of registered California voters by Feb. 18 to qualify for the 2010 ballot.
Linney said initial polling indicates 56 percent of the state’s residents favor legalizing marijuana; a conclusion he said is indicative of a belief that criminalization of marijuana has been needlessly expensive and misguided.
“The challenge is to show that this is a workable solution,” he said, predicting California will turn into the national “battleground for the move to tax and regulate cannabis.”
The signature threshold means high costs for ballot initiative committees, but Myers said he is not worried the Arizona drive to legalize pot for medical purposes will be crowded out by California’s more expansive effort.
“All we have to do is make a phone call and then more money comes in,” Myers said. “It’s not a situation that we are sweating at all. Arizona is their number one priority.”
Myers claim that his organization has collected 125,000 signatures was partially validated by Andrew Chavez, owner of Petition Partners, an Arizona firm hired to ensure that signers of petitions to support the Arizona initiative are registered Arizona voters.
Chavez said that he had not kept a running count of signatures his firm has examined, but added Myers’ tally “seemed about right.”