Proposition 205 Losing in Arizona — But Marijuana Still Wins

A slim majority of Arizona voters appear to have defeated Proposition 205, leaving the state on the wrong side of history.

The marijuana-legalization measure was failing 52.1 percent to 47.9 percent, according to results posted at Secretary of State Michele Reagan's website this morning, with more than 97 percent of precincts reporting.

The Associated Press called the race for the "no" side at about 11 o'clock last night, setting off a blizzard of angry tweets by liberals and marijuana supporters.

Meanwhile, voters in California, Nevada, and Massachusetts legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older. Legalization held a narrow lead in Maine, with 89 percent of precincts counted. Florida voters approved medical marijuana.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona didn't concede Tuesday night or early Wednesday, however. Just after AP called the race, campaign manager Adam Kinsey told a dwindling crowd at the Yes on 205 party at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix that he remained optimistic because thousands of votes had yet to be counted.

Kinsey said that if 55 percent of the remaining votes came in for the proposition, it would pass.

"It's really doable," he said.

Not long after, lawyer and campaign volunteer Ryan Hurley paced the floor in front of three big-screen TV monitors displaying election results, looking stressed.

"I'm nervous," Hurley admitted. "It's still doable."

At last count Wednesday morning, the measure trailed by just over 80,000 votes.

The night at the popular lounge just north of Van Buren Street on Second Avenue began with optimism for a new era of marijuana freedom in Arizona. Possession of any amount of marijuana is currently a felony, except for medicinal users, but Prop 205 aimed to legalize personal amounts of the plant for all adults 21 and older, with money from the sales at retail stores going to schools and the state Department of Health Services.

People who registered for the election-watch party began arriving at 7 p.m., enjoying free food and drink specials as NBC's news broadcast blared on TV. At least 100 people attended, including campaign volunteers, medical-marijuana dispensary owners, cannabis-industry representatives, and Phoenicians who wanted a front-row seat at a potentially history-making election. Just before the first results came in, campaign manager J.P. Holyoak took the stage and announced that he expected the proposition to be losing at first, especially in counts of early votes.

"That's what we expect; that's part of the process," Holyoak said, assuring the crowd that when the voting precincts reported, "we’ll come back."

Then one of the monitors displayed the early voting results, which showed the measure losing decisively.

The party went on, and several patrons told New Times they felt hopeful.

"I'm predicting a win at 57 [percent]," said Don Ream, 68, a U.S. Navy vet and medical-marijuana user whom Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery branded an "enemy" last year during a heated Q&A session after a debate, when Ream provoked the prosecutor by saying he used marijuana recreationally as well as medicinally.

As numbers came in from precincts around the state, the gap between the two sides shrank by tiny fractions. The proposition wasn't making headway.

"I want to stay positive — that’s my whole mantra," said David, a 30-year-old patron from Phoenix who didn’t want to give his last name.

The mood at the party became noticeably subdued as the night wore on without much change in the numbers. Nevada, where early results looked more dismal than Arizona's, suddenly sprang back to a clear victory. And Arizona stayed behind.

Brannon Hollis, 40, of Phoenix, took a circumspect view.

"There's always a first step in doing something," he said. "If something fails, that doesn't mean you quit."

He said he believed in marijuana legalization because, like alcohol, its use comes down to personal responsibility. People may misuse something, but that doesn't mean the majority who don't misuse it should be penalized, Hollis said. Marijuana laws are "like Prohibition back in the day."

Donald Trump's march toward victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential race added to the uneasiness among the many liberals in the crowd. El Mirage resident Chace Bergeron, 28, wasn't one of them — he supports Trump, he said. He also supports Prop 205 because of the tax revenue it would bring in and because it would allow medicinal users to obtain cannabis without a doctor visit. His wife, who didn't want to share her name, backed Prop 205 but not Trump. Both of them said they hadn’t lost hope in the proposition.

Matt Higgins, 30, on the other hand, wearing a baseball cap that read, "Marijuana Doctor" and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt, said it appeared to him that Prop 205 was sunk.

"As long as we've got the old cowboys here, it won't pass here," he said. "It will be back and will pass the second time. The people want it."

Dr. Sue Sisley, the physician who was fired from the University of Arizona for what appeared to be anti-pot reasons, and Bruce Laird, the combat vet who starred in a Prop 205 ad, were among the guests at the party.

Laird said he's going to be one of the first to take part in a PTSD study with marijuana that Sisley is helping to conduct. Before the campaign asked him to take part in the commercial, he didn’t support Prop 205.

"Then I read it, understood it, and I felt like a jackass," he said.

R.D., the principal of the Leaf Life dispensary in Casa Grande, called said he was ready expand his business "tenfold" if Prop 205 passed.

"In two years, we've grown 500 percent," he said, declining to reveal his last name. "If it passes, we're going straight up to Mars until 2020."

Under Prop 205, existing dispensary owners receive preference for a limited number of retail licenses. R.D. said he'd already agreed with his "weed-friendly landlord" to give Leaf Life three times the space it currently occupies.

They'd even cleared the potential deal with the renters of the business property next to the dispensary, who would be displaced but reimbursed for the move.

If the proposition didn't pass, the numbers of medical-marijuana patients in Arizona would keep going up, R.D. predicted. His business would continue to thrive.

Many people left the ballroom after Kinsey's 11 p.m. announcement.

Carlos Alfaro, the Arizona political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said he'd remain optimistic until Friday.

Marijuana advocates across the country hailed the votes in California, Massachusetts, and Nevada as significant for the legalization movement. As Wednesday dawned, more than 20 percent of Americans would awaken in states where marijuana is legal.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.
Contact: Ray Stern