Marijuana Legalization Can Stay on Arizona Ballot, State Supreme Court Rules

The Arizona Supreme Court is leaving marijuana legalization up to voters in 2020.
The Arizona Supreme Court is leaving marijuana legalization up to voters in 2020.
The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that voters will get to decide the future of the Smart & Safe Arizona initiative to legalize cannabis.

The citizens' initiative now known as Proposition 207 submitted 420,000 signatures supporting the measure on July 1. That brought a challenge by Arizonans for Health and Public Safety (AZHPS), which tried to keep it off the November ballot.

The AZHPS filed a lawsuit last month in Maricopa County Superior Court, alleging that the 100-word statement used by petitioners to gather signatures was misleading and left out key information. It was a last-ditch attempt at blocking marijuana legalization.

When the Maricopa County Superior Court sided with Smart & Safe, AZHPS appealed the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court on August 11.

“We are appealing this decision because we continue to believe that the 100-word statement fails to accomplish its purpose as required by Arizona law,” said AZHPS Chairwoman Lisa James in an August 11 press release.  “The summary fails to disclose key provisions, including that it would redefine marijuana in Arizona law, cap the excise tax at 16%, and alter the burden of proof for marijuana DUI. Further, it misleads voters on limits to marijuana cultivation and incorrectly states that it “protects” employer rights when it in fact decreases them.”

But the seven supreme court justices voted unanimously against the challenge. Even Arizona Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery, a staunch opponent of marijuana in his previous role as county attorney, voted that the summary had complied with the rules and could be on the November ballot.

This will be the second time Arizonans have voted on adult use; Proposition 205 failed by about 3 percent back in 2016. But as neighboring states like California and Nevada legalize and everyday folk become more comfortable around ganja, legalization this time might be a good bet. Polls have found high support for Smart and Safe; in July, a survey by OH Predictive Insights found the measured favored by 62 percent of 600 likely voters.

AZHPS cited many reasons for its opposition, warning that marijuana legalization will result in unsafe roads, addiction, minor use, and, ultimately, the degradation of families.

Stacy Pearson, a spokesperson for Smart & Safe Arizona, could not disagree with the opponents more.

"This organization has missed the mark, and their attempt to block the initiative from the ballot was expensive and fruitless. Voters should decide in November whether they want marijuana taxed, tested, and sold legally or just sold. That's ultimately what people are deciding on," Pearson told Phoenix New Times. "A thousand people a month are arrested in Arizona for possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. If you want to talk about families being affected, there you have it."

AZHPS seems to have an uphill battle ahead to convince voters to reject the measure, and a smear campaign like opponents tried in 2016 may not do the trick this go around.
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Natasha Yee is a freelance writer and yoga teacher who likes to explore the city. She considers the thesaurus her best friend.
Contact: Natasha Yee