A New Lawsuit Seeks to Block Arizona's Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure

Will voters have another chance to legalize marijuana in Arizona on November 3, 2020?
Will voters have another chance to legalize marijuana in Arizona on November 3, 2020? Unsplash
Opponents of cannabis legalization have filed a lawsuit against the Safe & Smart Arizona initiative in an attempt to keep it off the November 2020 ballot.

The complaint, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on July 20, alleges that the 100-word summary statement used by petitioners to solicit signatures for the measure was misleading and left out key information.

The lawsuit was filed by Lisa James, the chairperson of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, and "eight concerned Arizona voters," according to the group's news release. The registered political committee, which has raised a little over $100,000 — including $50,000 from the Center for Arizona Policy Action, a conservative group — opposes legalizing recreational marijuana, according to the filing. The plaintiffs in the case are being represented by the national law firm Polsinelli. Former Arizona Congressman John Shadegg and attorney Sean Gallagher will be the lead litigators.

The lawsuit claims numerous instances of alleged omissions from the summary. For example, it says the summary fails to properly define "marijuana," noting that it also legalizes concentrated marijuana. It says the summary failed to mention, among other things, that a 16 percent excise tax on marijuana would not be adjustable by the Legislature, and that there is no excise tax on home-grown marijuana. It also claims the measure's summary misled the public about DUI and employer protections.

"These omissions and statements misled voters who signed the petition about what the initiative would do," James said in the release. "There is a reason a small handful of big marijuana businesses spent millions of dollars for Smart & Safe Arizona to gather signatures without actually informing signers of what they were agreeing to."

In early July, organizers behind Safe & Smart Arizona submitted an estimated 420,000 signatures supporting the measure to the Arizona Secretary of State, well above the 237,645 necessary to get it on the November ballot. Features of the measure include legalizing cannabis possession, consumption, and limited cultivation for people over 21-years old, taxing marijuana sales and funneling the money to public services, and giving people previously convicted of low-level marijuana charges the option of having their record sealed.

The plaintiffs behind the lawsuit are also seeking an injunction prohibiting the Secretary of State from certifying the measure and placing it on the November 2020 ballot.

"The initiative is clearly defective and does not comply with the requirements set by the Arizona Constitution or Statutes for such measures," Shadegg said. "The proponent's summary of the initiative is confusing and deceptive in numerous ways, beginning with the very definition of marijuana."

In response, Stacy Pearson, a spokesperson for Safe & Smart Arizona, slammed the lawsuit as a last-ditch effort to keep a popular ballot measure from going before voters.

"This is a desperate Hail Mary by the opposition to try and prevent voters from legalizing cannabis," she told New Times. "The claims are absolutely bonkers... and I’m confident that the court will see through that."

Gary Smith, a local cannabis attorney, said that the lawsuit's arguments are trifling.

"This complaint gripes that the 100-word summary is incomplete and accurate and misleading. To that, I say, 'it’s a 100-word summary, guys, chill out'," he said. "You couldn’t summarize anything in 100-words and capture the full essence of it."

We've embedded the full complaint below:

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Josh Kelety was a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety