Despite Judge's Blistering Dismissal, Legalization Foes Vow to Take Lawsuit to State Supreme Court

On Thursday, a Maricopa County judge threw out a lawsuit challenging the pending Arizona ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry ruled that the plaintiffs had no legal standing and made no legitimate claims.

The ruling appears to clear the way for the initiative, officially designated Proposition 205, to appear on the November 8 ballot. 

The case's merits aside, if the plaintiffs — a group headed by members of the anti-legalization group Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy (ARDP) — were only after publicity, they accomplished their mission.

But radio talk-show host Seth Leibsohn, who along with Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk heads ARDP, vows to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.

"We thank Judge Gentry for her time, but we respectfully disagree with her ruling," Leibsohn said in a statement released to media outlets. "Despite today's ruling, we still believe this initiative perpetrates a fraud on the electorate for the reasons outlined in our complaint and oral argument, which is why we will be seeking an appeal on the ruling we received today."

In her 12-page ruling, Judge Gentry systematically dismantled the plaintiffs' case. (Editor's note: Scroll down to read Judge Gentry's ruling in its entirety.)

Citing a 2015 amendment to Arizona law that "unambiguously" restricts lawsuits against ballot initiatives to cases in which the Secretary of State has refused to accept and file a petition or impeded a petition by refusing to transmit copies of signature sheets, Gentry ruled that "such is not the case in this instance."

As to plaintiffs' attorney Brett Johnson's contention that the case should be an exception to that rule, Gentry said no dice.

In the event that a higher court were to reverse her reliance on those statutory grounds, Gentry addressed specifics of the suit.

She dismissed the plaintiffs' argument that the ballot measure's title, "The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act," does not adequately convey the scope of the law. Ditto the required 100-word summary of the measure.

Nor was the judge swayed by the argument that Proposition 205 should be kept off the ballot because Arizona voters would be confused by the "misleading" measure.

"At oral argument, both sides acknowledged their confidence in the ability of the voters to read and discern the merits of the Initiative." — Maricopa County Judge Jo Lynn Gentry

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"At oral argument, both sides acknowledged their confidence in the ability of the voters to read and discern the merits of the Initiative," Gentry wrote.

The judge also addressed the plaintiffs' contention that the measure fails to meet the Arizona Constitution's Revenue Source Rule, which demands that initiatives requiring funding must provide for those funds immediately. (Proposition 205 would use existing money from the state's Medical Marijuana Fund in order to create a Marijuana Licenses and Control agency.)

On that matter, Gentry wrote that the state Supreme Court has previously ruled that courts can't adjudicate Revenue Source Rule issues until after voters approve a ballot measure.

J.P. Holyoak, chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona — the group that put Proposition 205 on the ballot — said on Friday that the plaintiffs should be made to pay the campaign's legal fees as punishment for having filed a frivolous suit.

"The judge said there was zero merit here in any way, shape, or form," Holyoak told New Times. "I think we can all agree that people should be allowed to vote on this important issue, and the concept of a politician saying, 'No, voters, you're too stupid to vote on this,' is insulting and a slap in the face."

Read Judge Jo Lynn Gentry's ruling dismissing the lawsuit against the authors of Proposition 205:
Judge Jo Lynn Gentry's ruling dismissing the lawsuit against the authors of Proposition 205

Read the initial lawsuit here:
Lawsuit to block November 2016 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Arizona

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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.