The grass could be greener on the other side of November after Smart & Safe Arizona, a citizens' initiative to legalize cannabis for adult use in Arizona, said it filed 420,000 signatures with the Arizona Secretary of State on Wednesday.
The signatures must still be validated by the state. But with significantly more signatures than the 237,645 required to qualify for ballot access, the campaign, which began collecting signatures in September 2019 and has raised $3 million since, is optimistic about the future of cannabis in Arizona.
“Arizonans are ready to legalize cannabis and this is the right policy for our state,” said Arizona Dispensary Association President Steve White, CEO of Harvest Health and Recreation, in a press release. “New jobs and revenue are even more critical, today, than when we embarked on this campaign last year.”
The last adult-use cannabis legalization measure on the ballot in Arizona, Proposition 205, failed to pass by a margin of about 3 percent back in 2016. But things are looking up this time around, and backers believe that the measure will pass on November 3. An independent May 2020 poll from Arizona public affairs firm HighGround confirmed the measure’s popularity, though its sample size was small: 65 percent of the poll’s 400 respondents planned to vote “yes.”
Here are the key points of the measure, according to the ADA:
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- Arizonans 21 and over would be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, of which five grams could be concentrates.
- Each adult could grow six plants at home, with a maximum of 12 plants in homes with numerous adults.
- Smoking marijuana in public or open spaces, such as restaurants, parks, and sidewalks, would be prohibited.
- Employers and property owners would have the right to forbid use at their workplaces and on their property.
- People who were previously convicted of low-level marijuana charges would have the option to have their criminal records sealed, providing them fair access to employment and housing.
- An excise tax of 16 percent would be placed on cannabis products, in addition to regular taxes, similar to any other retail good.
- Funds collected from the excise tax would go toward state agencies like the Department of Health Services and the Department of Public Safety, with remaining funds divided primarily between community colleges, fire and police departments, and public health programs.
"Arizona has turned a corner on this issue. They want it legal, taxed, tested, and sold safely at a storefront and not on the street," said Stacy Pearson, senior vice president of Strategies 360 and spokesperson for the initiative.
Pearson said that many things have changed since Prop 205's failure. "We have seen neighboring states get legalization right, and the initiative that was drafted also gets it right. Most importantly, the economic impact and jobs that will be created are more important than ever. Cannabis is one of the few industries in this economy that has seen an increase in business."
Arizona medical marijuana sales hit a new record high in May, as people coping with the pandemic turn to the plant during uncertain times. Dispensaries sold more than 18,083 pounds of total cannabis products in May, a 5.8 percent increase over the previous record from March, and a staggering 31.3 percent increase over sales in May 2019.
People are becoming more comfortable with cannabis after visiting dispensaries in nearby legal states like California and Washington, Pearson said. "The wild scare tactics that we expect opponents to use just don't work anymore. Marijuana use has increased; people who vacation in California and Seattle get it. The sky hasn't fallen there," she said.
"The most important component in this measure is the one least talked about. It gives people who were convicted of a minor offense a chance to get back on a leveled playing field through expungement. Arizona is the only state where simple marijuana possession remains a felony," Pearson continues.
The measure also allows for the creation of more dispensary licenses, particularly for people of color. "There is a social equity program that awards 26 new licenses to communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition," says Pearson.
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But not everybody regards legalization so highly. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is opposed to the measure. In a June 25 press release, Chamber President & CEO Glenn Hamer urged voters to dismiss legalization once again.
“Arizona voters in 2016 rejected marijuana legalization. They should do so again. Despite the assurances of marijuana proponents, more harm than good will result from legalization. The potential consequences of legalization are severe, ranging from an uptick in workplace accidents and lower overall workplace productivity, to jeopardizing our workforce development efforts."
In the meantime, legalization proponents are staying positive, and having some fun while they're at it. As any pothead could tell you, it was no accident that 420,000 signatures were submitted to the Secretary of State today.
"It is a symbolic number, which is part of the marijuana culture," says Pearson. "We knew we needed a significant number of signatures beyond the 237,645, and 420 seemed fitting."