As Ballot Deadline Looms, Arizona's Marijuana-Legalization Initiative Survives Court Challenges From Both Sides

J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona, speaks at a press conference earlier this year.
J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona, speaks at a press conference earlier this year.
Nate Nichols

Proposition 205, Arizona's controversial recreational-marijuana initiative, was the subject of yet another lawsuit this week.

Last week a judge threw out a suit filed by opponents of the initiative who alleged that the 100-word summary on the petition to get the measure on the November ballot was misleading and fraudulent. 

This week it was the proponents' turn to sue. And they won...sort of.

On Monday, August 29, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) and its chairman, J.P. Holyoak, filed a complaint against Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

The CRMLA was unhappy with how Reagan boiled down the 19-page initiative for the ballot and for a pamphlet that will be distributed to the public in advance of the November election.

"The description is deficient and erroneous," CRMLA spokesman Barrett Marson told New Times. "It needs to be fixed so voters get accurate information."

The CRMLA contends that the summary misstates the age at which it would be legal to use, grow, possess, and purchase marijuana; that it contains misleading language regarding proposed criminal statutes; and that it fails to state how tax revenue from recreational marijuana would be spent.

As it stands, the ballot text reads:

"A 'yes' vote shall have the effect of permitting individuals over 21 years old to privately use, possess, manufacture, give away, or transport up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to 6 marijuana plants at the individual's residence; generally declaring violations of the Act (including public use) a petty offense punishable by no more than a $300 fine; creating the Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control, which includes a 7-member Marijuana Commission appointed by the Governor, to regulate and license entities involved in cultivating, manufacturing, distributing, selling, and testing marijuana products; granting local jurisdictions limited authority to enact ordinances and rules to regulate marijuana and marijuana products; establishing licensing fees for marijuana establishments and levying a 15% tax on all marijuana and marijuana products; and declaring all marijuana establishment contracts enforceable notwithstanding any conflict with federal law.

"A 'no' vote shall have the effect of retaining existing law, which prohibits individuals from using, possessing, growing or purchasing marijuana unless the individual is authorized by and doing so in compliance with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act."


The CRMLA argued that the initiative allows use by those who are 21 and older and that it keeps certain marijuana offenses punishable as felonies, not just petty offenses. The group also contended that voters should be made aware that proceeds from the 15 percent tax will benefit education (after funding the administration of the program). The non-partisan Tax Foundation estimates revenues could reach $113 million a year.

The complaint points out that previous ballot initiatives that included new revenue sources explained both the revenue source and the use of the funds in the "yes vote" ballot language in 11 of 13 instances since 1998.

These changes were all addressed in a proposed correction the CRMLA sent to the Secretary of State's Office. Reagan declined to make any changes to the ballot language.

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The complaint had sought an immediate injunction, because the deadline for finalizing the public pamphlet is today, Wednesday, August 31.

Earlier this afternoon Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Blomo sided with the plaintiffs on the "over 21" issue but refused to compel the state to change the two other disputed passages.

Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, tells New Times his office reviewed the summary submitted by the Secretary of State's Office, as required by law, and determined that it was not false or misleading. "We don't draft the language, we just review it," Anderson says.

The Secretary of State's Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, the initiative's opponents appealed last week's decision. This afternoon the Arizona Supreme Court ruled to keep Proposition 205 on the ballot.


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