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Ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana goes to court

Foes of legalizing adult recreational use of marijuana in Arizona are trying to keep the issue from going to voters in November.

Legal papers filed in Maricopa County Superior Court contend the legally required 100-word description misled people into signing the petition to put the issue on the ballot. Issues range from the definition of “marijuana” to how the law would affect driving while impaired.

The lawsuit comes as a new survey Tuesday finds widespread support fort the proposal — with more than six out of every 10 likely voters saying they will support it if it is on the ballot. Pollster Mike Noble of OH Predictive Insights said the query of 600 likely voters found that just 32 percent say they’re definitely opposed.

John Shadegg

John Shadegg

But the question of public support could be moot if former Congressman John Shadegg, representing Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, succeeds in convincing judges that the measure is not legally fit for a public vote.

The initiative, dubbed the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or five grams of concentrate. Possession of up to 2 1/2 ounces would be considered civil offenses, only becoming a misdemeanor on a third or subsequent violation.

Current law classifies possession or sale of marijuana in any amount as a felony. The only exception is for the more than 245,000 Arizonans who have a doctor’s recommendation that allows them to purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of the drug every two weeks.

Shadegg said there are a lot of things missing from the description.

One, he said, is that it does not inform signers that they would be redefining marijuana to include not just the leaves and flowers but to extracted resin which is more potent and, under current law, legally defined as “cannabis.”

“The summary misled signatories and will mislead voters who may support the legalization of ‘marijuana’ but not the more potent forms of ‘cannabis,’ ” Shadegg wrote.

He also finds fault with the claim that the initiative, if approved, would require a showing that someone is impaired “to the slightest degree” to be convicted of driving under the influence of drugs.

The problem, Shadegg said, is that current law makes it a crime for someone to operate a motor vehicle with any amount of marijuana or cannabis, or even an active metabolite of the drug. This would add a requirement for prosecutors to also prove the person was impaired.

Shadegg also finds fault with a provision levying a 16 percent excise tax on the drug, saying it does not tell people that can never be altered except by taking the issue back to the ballot. And he said it also fails to point out that people can grow up to six marijuana plants for themselves without paying the tax.

Campaign chairman Chad Campbell called the lawsuit “ludicrous.”

He said that foes are trying to use the courts to make the arguments that should be made to voters. And Campbell, a former state legislator, said the 100-word description was never meant to be a point-by-point analysis of everything in the initiative.

Campbell also has a theory about why foes are trying to kill the measure in court.

“This is a desperate grasp from a group that can’t afford to run a campaign,” he said. “So they’re trying to do anything they can to keep it off the ballot and prevent the voters of Arizona from having their say.”

A similar measure in 2016 failed by about 4 percentage points amid an expensive campaign amid claims that adult access would lead to greater teen use and more accidents. Foes spent $6.1 million at the time, with much of that coming from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

This year, however, the business group may find its hands full — and its resources drained — by two other high-profile measures it hopes to kill. One would impose a surcharge on incomes above $250,000 for individuals to provide more cash for K-12 schools, the other would mandate pay hikes for hospital workers.

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