Big Week for Weed! State Confirms Legalization Measure for Ballot, ASU Forum Starts Today

(See UPDATE below from the Arizona Secretary of State's Office)

What a busy week in weed! The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (RTMA) has exceeded its signature goal and will be on the November ballot, the Arizona Secretary of State's Office confirmed on Wednesday. Matt Roberts, spokesman for the office, said the state will likely issue a certification today making the news official.

The campaign behind the ballot initiative, a group of Arizona dispensary owners and the national Marijuana Policy Project, plan to hold a news conference about it this morning, but the news media has run with the story since yesterday afternoon's announcement. The campaign submitted 258,699 signatures to the state on June 30, well in excess of the 150,642 it needed. (New Times will update this story with the official tally of valid signatures when the figure is released.)

If approved by voters on November 8, the RTMA will legalize possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal consumption for adults 21 and older and sets up a limited system of retail stores where cannabis products will be sold.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it would not reschedule marijuana from its current Schedule I status under federal law. The announcement did contain one interesting surprise: The DEA says it will expand the number of cultivation sites approved for purposes of medical research.

An incremental step to be sure, but a significant one. At present, the only place where marijuana can be grown in the United States without violating federal law is on a small farm owned by the University of Mississippi, under the oversight of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Might we see a NIDA-certified pot farm at Arizona State University or elsewhere in the state? Details will be revealed in an upcoming edition of the Federal Register, the agency says.

Click the link to read the DEA's letter to petitioners who wanted marijuana rescheduled. (Signers include the governors of Rhode Island and Washington.)

If you can't get enough of all the news coverage on cannabis this week and want full immersion, Arizona State University has a public forum for you.

Today ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy kicks off its Arizona Citizens' Initiative Review (CIR), which it calls "an innovative exercise in voter engagement and education."

For the next four days, the CIR's advisory board — various experts on a range of subjects, along with advocates, pro and con, of the ballot initiative — will converge to discuss the potential effects of marijuana legalization.

The event is open to the public, but for viewing only (no questions or comments from the peanut gallery). Findings gleaned from the discussions will be delivered to the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission and the Secretary of State's Office and shared with the news media.

Today through Sunday, interested parties will converge on the A.E. England Building, 424 North Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today, and Friday through Sunday from 8:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

A partial schedule of events, per ASU:

• Thursday, August 11
3-4 p.m.: Initial advocate presentations

• Friday, August 12
12:15-1:15 p.m.: Advocate Q&A panel
2-4 p.m.: Independent expert panel sessions

• Saturday, August 13
1-2 p.m.: Final advocate presentations

Advocates in favor of legalization are J.P. Holyoak and Ryan Hurley of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Arizona psychiatrist Ed Gogek will advocate for the opposition.

Independent experts include Will Humble of the Arizona Public Health Association; Gregory Midgette, a policy researcher with the RAND Corporation think tank; Erik Luna, an ASU law professor; and Ashley Kilroy, executive director of marijuana policy for the city and county of Denver.

The Morrison Institute likens the event to a jury trial without a verdict: It will elucidate pros and cons but will take no final stance on the ballot measure.

Read more info about the event from ASU here and here.

UPDATE: Secretary of State Michelle Reagan's office has released data on signature validity for what will now be known as Proposition 205. Here's the word from Reagan's spokesman, Matt Roberts:

 To qualify for the ballot, the county recorders were required to validate at least 7,681 total signatures with no worse than a 38.4% signature failure rate.

· The county recorders validated 8,864 signatures and disqualified 3,611signatures, resulting in a 28.95% signature failure rate.

· Pursuant to state law the estimated total number of valid signatures is 177,258, which exceeds the 150,642 minimum signatures to qualify for the ballot under the Arizona Constitution.

· The Secretary of State’s Office has notified the Governor that a sufficient number of signatures have been filed and that the initiative will be placed the general election ballot.

· The initiative will be assigned Proposition 205.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.

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