Second Arizona Pot-Legalization Campaign Nears 100,000 Signatures

Arizonans for Mindful Regulation, the lesser-known marijuana-legalization campaign staffed mainly by volunteers, has reportedly gathered nearly 100,000 signatures.

While it's still a long shot, the effort's leader, Jason Medar, is rousing his troops for a big push over the next five months to double that number. And he's still vowing that if the campaign doesn't make the ballot, the group will focus its efforts on shooting down the better-funded Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona.

"We're doing this to keep our friends and family safe." — Jason Medar, leader of Arizonans for Mindful Regulation.

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"Why are 170 volunteers working for free?" Medar asked rhetorically at a group meeting on Sunday at a Phoenix restaurant. "We're doing this to keep our friends and family safe."

AZFMR has distinguished itself by attacking CRMLA as too commercial and because it would continue to subject marijuana users to felony prosecution if they grow or possess more than allowed limits. In a comparison chart the group touts, AZFMR argues for 1,600 adult-use marijuana shops statewide instead of about 160, makes possession of up to eight ounces for sale a misdemeanor, and prevents municipalities from prohibiting home cultivation.

CRMLA would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older, and possession of up to 2.5 ounces a misdemeanor. Anything over that would remain a felony. Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana in Arizona is a felony, except for valid medical-marijuana cardholders. Although CRMLA would allow state residents to grow up to six plants in their homes, it also gives cities the option to ban home-grow. [Update: There's some dispute about this latter point. See below.]

Medar's a former Orange County dispensary owner who helped defeat California's 2010 legalization initiative, which he believed didn't go far enough in eliminating cannabis prohibition. His group is operating on a shoestring budget: Recent campaign-finance documents filed with the state show it's collected only $5,000 in cash donations and another $7,000 worth of contributed goods and services.

CRMLA has enjoyed a budget of about $1 million because of donations from the national Marijuana Policy Project, which brought Arizona its 2010 medical-marijuana law, and from local dispensaries. The state's retail medical-cannabis shops — there are nearly 90 now — would benefit greatly if voters approve the CRMLA because the initiative gives them preference in obtaining one of the initial 160 retail-store licenses. Arguably, CRMLA has the best shot at landing on the ballot and granting Colorado-style cannabis freedom to Arizonans.

What the hardcore cannabis consumers behind the AZFMR have is intense passion and commitment to their cause. The campaign is supported heavily by the grassroots organization Safer Arizona and its founder, Dave Wisniewski. Social-media has played an important role in getting the group's message out. And it's apparently paying off.

Wisniewski this morning confirmed Medar's Sunday announcement, saying that AZFMR has surpassed 95,000 signatures — an impressive feat, considering the other side has collected about 150,000 signatures mostly by using paid petition gatherers.

Yet AZFMR has a long road to travel before it appears on the ballot, Medar acknowledged in a video made of Sunday's meeting. The group needs to turn in 150,000 valid signatures of registered voters by July 7, which means that it needs to collect about 200,000 total signatures to have a comfortable margin of valid ones, he said.

Positive developments that will help keep up the momentum include a deal to put AZFMR petitions in 500 new retail-store locations throughout the state, he said.

The group also is about to launch a billboard, he told AZFMR supporters. It will tell viewers to "vote 'no' on fake marijuana-legalization" initiatives and vote "yes" on AZFMR, he explained.

This prompted a question from a supporter about whether negative messages should be avoided. Medar reiterated that should AZFMR fail to make the ballot, "we will launch a 'don't vote' campaign against the CRMLA.

He also said, even if AZFMR fails this year, "we will be ready in 2018" to try again.

[UPDATE: A portion of the CRMLA's text appears to allow cities to ban home-grow. (See 36-2856 B(3) of the text). Carlos Alfaro, a campaign manager, appears in a video explaining that cities can ban home-grow. But tonight, attorney Ryan Hurley told New Times following the publication of this articled that the proposal doesn't allow cities to do that. It's an issue for further review, obviously.)

See below for video of Medar's presentation:

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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.