An Arizona group that six months ago announced grand plans for a rival proposal to legalize marijuana is giving up and endorsing its competitor’s ballot initiative, Phoenix New Times has learned.
The move by the insurgent Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce (AZC3) helps pave the way for the dispensary-led Smart and Safe Arizona Act to earn votes at the ballot box this November.
“We would like to have seen some things changed in the initiative," said AZC3 board member Mason Cave, "But at this point, with that being the only path forward, the board agreed to lend its support to Smart and Safe."
AZC3 plans to announce the move publicly within the coming days. The group will also merge its board with the Marijuana Industry Trade Association of Arizona, which has endorsed the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, Cave confirmed.
Plans to try and legalize marijuana in Arizona in 2020 have been in the works since early 2019, when the Arizona Dispensaries Association announced it would run a campaign to present a measure to voters this year.
The resulting initiative, known as the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, has amassed more than 270,000 signatures, all but securing its place on the ballot this November. It has also raised over $1.6 million, with most of its support coming from the state’s biggest dispensary operators.
But it hasn’t come without criticism. AZC3 — a small-but-vocal rival group of marijuana industry growers, manufacturers, lawyers, and others — came out in fierce opposition to the Smart and Safe Arizona Act last September.
AZC3 has for months admonished the dispensary-led initiative for its limited licensing structure, arguing it would give too much power to the large-scale dispensaries that already dominate the Arizona medical marijuana market. The group drafted an alternative plan, the Small Business Liberty Act, which would have allowed for more licenses and put the recreational industry under the jurisdiction of Arizona’s liquor board. It hoped to get a sponsor in the Legislature to carry it to the November ballot through a referral process.
But AZC3 couldn’t get the legislative support it needed. It never found a sponsor willing to introduce the draft plan as a ballot referral in the State Legislature. Republicans in the House and Senate have shown little interest in adult-use marijuana bills, instead choosing to advance bills that would further regulate Arizona's existing medical marijuana program.
That’s why AZC3 now has decided to give up and endorse the initiative that it has long opposed, Cave said.
“The initiative definitely isn’t ideal, and some of those issues that we pointed out are still issues,” Cave said. “But you know what? The state of Arizona is still going to get adult-use legalization at the end of the day. And that’s the most important thing."
AZC3 and MITA are still hashing out the details of how they will merge the two boards, according to MITA founder Demitri Downing.
"We’re pleased to be unifying to make our two organizations stronger," Downing said.
Sam Richard, executive director at the Arizona Dispensaries Association, said he was "extremely grateful" for AZC3's decision to endorse the ADA's plan.
Stacy Pearson, a senior vice president at Strategies 360 and the spokesperson for the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Though there’s another pot proposal aiming to compete with the ADA’s initiative, it hasn’t submitted any campaign finance reports, according to Arizona Secretary of State records.
And a bill to legalize pot with the legislative process, introduced by Democratic Representative Randall Friese, also hasn’t made any headway in the State House.
Though a similar attempt to legalize adult-use marijuana failed to appeal to a majority of Arizona voters in 2016, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act hasn't seen as much institutional opposition as that initiative did — at least not yet.
"We're excited to work together as one industry on a singular purpose of pursuing adult-use recreational marijuana," Richard said.
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