Arizona Group Unveils Rival Pot Legalization Plan, Seeks Legislative Approval

Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce board member Mason Cave explains the group's draft plan for legalization at a public meeting on November 13.
Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce board member Mason Cave explains the group's draft plan for legalization at a public meeting on November 13. Ali Swenson
The Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce has unveiled a rough proposal for legalizing adult-use marijuana, the first step in a longshot bid to compete with an existing, industry-backed initiative.

Now, the small group of marijuana industry representatives is courting public feedback on its draft in hopes of molding a piece of legislation that more than half of state lawmakers can agree to put on next year’s ballot.

The group, also known as AZC3, released the draft of its Small Business Liberty Act at a public meeting on November 13. If passed, it would offer 125 new marijuana licenses to entrepreneurs who want to get into the industry, and put the recreational market under the regulation of the state’s liquor control board.

It would also require current medical marijuana dispensary owners in Arizona to cough up $100,000 to buy into the state’s recreational market. It would use that money to offset the costs of running the industry.

Another plan to legalize adult-use marijuana, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, already has broad support from dispensary owners and is likely to get enough signatures to appear on the 2020 ballot. Unlike the Small Business Liberty Act, it would ask medical marijuana dispensary owners to pay only up to $25,000 to enter the recreational market. It would also limit the number of licenses available to new business owners, keeping the industry smaller, at first.

AZC3 opposes that initiative, saying it gives too much power to the large-scale dispensaries that already dominate the state’s medical marijuana market. It hopes by giving state lawmakers a say in editing its proposal, it can get something onto the ballot that voters might prefer over the Smart and Safe Arizona Act.

“The goal here is good legislation,” board member Mason Cave said on November 13.

But AZC3 has a long way to go in order to make that happen. It would have to convince half of both the state House and Senate in a Republican-led state Legislature to give it a chance. And the group’s 11-page draft — which still has blank spaces and misspellings — still needs to be revised into a final version.

Stacy Pearson, a senior vice president at Strategies 360 and the spokesperson for the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, said she doesn’t understand why AZC3 is getting fanfare.

“All of this is on the presumption that it gets sponsored, heard, passed in committee, passed out of a chamber, moved over, passed again, and put on the ballot,” she said. “There is no opportunity for small business when this thing doesn’t get heard or passed by the Legislature. So this is all conjecture.”

To Pearson's point, AZC3 still hasn't named any legislators who are willing to publicly support its plan.

But AZC3 has piqued the curiosity of some marijuana industry representatives, including Demitri Downing, founder of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association of Arizona. Downing pointed out the irony that public interest in AZC3's proposal is a direct result of the broad influence the Smart and Safe initiative has already had.

“I think if the Smart and Safe initiative was not present, the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce would not be getting so much credibility in its legislative moves,” Downing said. “So, it’s fascinating the way things are playing out.”

The legislative session is still two months away. For now, AZC3 is revising its draft. Starting January 13, 2020, it’ll have 100 days to try and earn majority approval from half of both houses.

Read the full text of AZC3’s draft referendum below:
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Ali Swenson was an editorial fellow for Phoenix New Times starting in 2019.