Backers of a campaign to legalize recreational use of marijuana submitted about 420,000 signatures on petitions July 1 to put the issue on the November ballot.
The filing by Smart and Safe Arizona is far more than the 237,645 valid signatures needed to send the issue to voters. That provides plenty of wiggle room if some of the petitions are declared invalid.
But it becomes only the first step in trying to convince Arizonans once again that they want to allow adults to buy and possess up to an ounce of marijuana or 12 plants.
A similar measure failed four years ago by about 4 percentage points amid an extensive campaign over whether easier access by adults leads to greater teen use. There also was a fear by employers that it would allow workers to show up on the job still under the effects.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry already has positioned itself to oppose the 2020 measure.
Campaign Chairman Chad Campbell said the concern by the business community has been taken into account. He said this year’s version contains specific provisions allowing employers to enact and enforce policies “restricting the use of marijuana by employees or prospective employees.”
But chamber lobbyist Garrick Taylor pointed out the Arizona Constitution specifically prohibits lawmakers from tinkering with anything voters have approved unless it “furthers the purpose” of the underlying initiative. And even then, it takes a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate.
“We should not pass a new law by initiative that will be impossible to ever change or undo,” Taylor said.
But efforts by some lawmakers to have the Legislature address the issue – and in a way where it could be altered if necessary – have gone nowhere as Republican legislative leaders have refused to even consider legalizing marijuana. And Gov. Doug Ducey has hinted in the past that he would veto any attempt to do so.
“I don’t think any state ever got stronger by being stoned,” the governor said during the 2016 campaign. There was no immediate response from Ducey on July 1.
A 2010 voter-approved law allows Arizonans with certain medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. These conditions range from glaucoma and HIV to severe and chronic pain.
At last count there were more than 245,000 individuals who were qualified.
This measure seeks to follow in the path of 11 states, including California, Nevada and Colorado, where voters or lawmakers have decided that it should no longer be a crime for adults to purchase and use marijuana for recreational purposes.
There are some provisions designed to entice backers or blunt opposition.
It would impose a 16% tax on sales that proponents say would generate $300 million a year in new revenues to fund community colleges, public safety, health programs, and for the construction and repair of roads.
There also is a prohibition on sales to anyone younger than 21. And the measure would bar the sale of marijuana products that resemble humans, animals, insects, fruits, toys or cartoons – think gummy bears – or sell or advertise marijuana with names or designs that imitate food or drink brands marketed to children.
But Lisa James, heading Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, said none of that ensures that items won’t be marketed to kids. She said the list of what’s prohibited in designs leaves a whole host of what remains legal, like gummies with marijuana in the form of sports cars.
James also said it will lead to more accidents as motorists who are high get behind the wheel.
Campbell said the measure contains a ban on driving while impaired.
But he conceded there is currently no technology, similar to a breath test, to determine the level of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in someone’s blood. And even if such a device becomes available, there is no standard in the proposal to say that a specific THC level is a presumption of driving impaired, the way someone with a blood-alcohol level is presumed to be driving drunk.
Another possible objection could come from the fact that the measure is crafted in a way to pretty much guarantee that the first of the limited number of licenses to sell marijuana for recreational use will be given to existing medical marijuana dispensaries. Campbell said that is justified.
“We don’t want a ‘Wild Wild West’ implementation,” he said.
“We want proven operators that have operated safely who have established trust with the Department of Health Services and other agencies here,” Campbell said. He said they “will be able to hit the ground running and safely and effectively sell this product.”
That preference, however, shows up in who is funding the initiative. Virtually all of the $2.77 million reported raised in the most recent campaign filing – mostly to hire paid circulators – has come from companies that sell marijuana, including more than $1 million alone from Harvest Enterprises, which has been buying up dispensaries and cultivators in Arizona and across the nation.
Campbell said, though, there will be opportunities for others, both as the number of allowable shops increases due to population growth as well as what he said is a set-aside for “social equity licensing,” described as promoting ownership “from communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws.”