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Marijuana initiative has enough signatures, but challenges remain

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A bid to let adults buy and use marijuana for recreation has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

But, in the end, that may not be enough.

Matt Roberts, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said Wednesday that the petitions verified so far show there will be at least the legally required 150,642 valid signatures to give voters the last word. Roberts said he won’t have a final count until Thursday as his office is waiting for the results of signature review by Coconino County.

But he said what officials there ultimately provide won’t make a difference: There are enough signatures from the other 14 counties to put the measure over the top. Based on that news, proponents have scheduled a formal announcement and rally of sorts for Thursday.

That celebration, however, may be premature.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry is scheduled to hear arguments Friday from challengers who contend that the wording of the measure is legally flawed. If Gentry agrees — and her decision is not overturned — it won’t matter how many people signed petitions to put the issue on the November ballot.

Current law permits those with certain medical conditions, a doctor’s recommendation and a state-issued ID card to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. About 100,000 Arizonans already have such certification.

It also set up a network of about 90 dispensaries where those with a card can obtain the drug.

For everyone else, possession remains a felony, though a 1986 law prohibits incarceration for a first offense.

What would be Proposition 205 would let any adult to have up to an ounce of the drug or up to 12 plants without fear of winding up in court. The number of outlets would increase to a maximum of 147 through 2020, with sales subject to a special levy earmarked for education and other causes as well as the regular state sales tax.

Any campaign is likely to focus on the wisdom of legalizing the drug for recreational use. Proponents and foes each have marshaled arguments about what has been the experience in Colorado and other states where recreational use already is legal.

But opponents also are trying to short-circuit the process and keep what promises to be a multi million-dollar campaign on each side from even getting started. And they’re doing it with a virtual grab-bag of legal arguments designed to convince Gentry that the initiative does not comply with legal requirements.

For example, attorney Brett Johnson charges that neither the measure’s legally required 100-word description nor the text itself spells out how such a radical change in state law will affect employers. And he said it lacks definition of some of the terms used.

Similarly, Johnson cites what he said are impacts on child welfare laws, statutes governing landlords and tenants, and the ability of local governments to set limits on marijuana businesses. He contends none of that is explained in the initiative summary.

And he claims the measure is misleading in saying it would “regulate marijuana like alcohol,” saying there would be substantial differences. All of that, Johnson is arguing to Gentry, make the measure legally insufficient to be put to voters.

But campaign spokesman Barrett Marson said Thursday’s rally will go on as scheduled. And he rejected any suggestion that such a celebration is premature ahead of a final word on the lawsuit.

“We have our own legal analysis,” he said. “It’s a frivolous lawsuit and it’ll be beat back in court fairly quickly.”

The latest campaign finance reports show proponents have raised more than $2.4 million. But more than $1.1 million already has been spent gathering signatures and for other expenses.

Opponents have so far collected close to $770,000, with reported expenses of only about $106,000.

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