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Marijuana initiative can stay on ballot, court rules

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Voters who signed petitions to legalize the recreational use of marijuana were not misled, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith ruled late Friday, and the measure can be on the ballot.

In a 15-page ruling, Smith, a Gov. Doug Ducey appointee, rejected claims by Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy that the 100-word summary on the initiative omitted principal provisions and was misleading.

“At 100 words, the summary also cannot include everything,” he wrote. “that is why the full initiative must accompany the petition.”

And Smith chided foes for suggesting that voters might not understand all the implications of what the measure would do, things like changing laws on advertising and altering laws on driving under the influence of drugs.

James Smith

James Smith

“This initiative is plain: It wants to legalize recreational marijuana,” the judge wrote.

“That is the principal provision,” he continued, the key thing that has to be in the description. “It is unlikely electors signing these petitions would be surprised by cascading effects of legalizing a formerly illegal substance.”

Lisa James, who chairs the group trying to keep the measure off the November ballot, said an appeal is likely.

The measure would allow adults to possess up to an once of marijuana or 12 plants. It would impose a 16% tax on sales that supporters say would generate about $300 million a year for community colleges, public safety, health programs and for road construction and repair of roads.

But James said the summary does not provide some crucial details, like the fact it would legalize not just marijuana in its leafy form but also more concentrated resins.

Smith, however, pointed out that resin is part of the marijuana plant under Arizona law, saying he doubts that voters are likely to be confused since resin is legal under the state’s existing medical marijuana law.

James also said it’s not made clear that if the measure becomes law that people could legally drive with metabolites of marijuana in their system, with the test being whether they were “impaired to the slightest degree.” Foes said that fails to disclose that people actually would be able to drive legally with metabolites of marijuana in their body, essentially what’s produced by the body as the chemical breaks down.

Smith called that irrelevant, pointing out court cases which already say that medical marijuana patients with metabolites in their blood, evidence of earlier usage, can’t be convicted of driving under the influence of drugs absent a showing of impairment.

“An elector signing a petition to legalize recreational marijuana would more likely be surprised if the initiative did not decriminalize driving with any amount of metabolite in one’s system,” Smith wrote, just as people can’t be convicted of drunk driving simply because there are metabolites of alcohol in their blood.

Smith was no more impressed by arguments that legalizing marijuana for adult use might result in minors being exposed to advertising for the drug.

“Voters will not be surprised that sellers may advertise a now-legal product if the initiative passes,” the judge said. He said that’s no different than other adult products, “from medical marijuana billboards to condom commercial to ubiquitous beer advertisements.”

Anyway, Smith said, sales to minors would be prohibited and the initiative bars selling or advertising marijuana products that imitate children’s food or drink brands.

The judge stressed that it is not his job to decide whether the initiative is good or bad. And he said many of the objections of foes are “policy issue best left for voters or elected representatives.”

 

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