Arizona Marijuana Legalization Campaign's Picking Up Signatures Fast

A campaign to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older in Arizona has picked up 75,000 signatures already, an achievement that makes the proposal ever more likely to appear on the state's 2016 ballot.

J.P. Holyoak, chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, says today that his group is about one-third of the way toward its goal to turn in 230,000 signatures before the July 2016 deadline. More than 150,000 signatures are needed to qualify for the ballot, but ballot-measure campaigns always shoot for a much higher number knowing that many will be thrown out for various reasons.

The campaign is sponsored partly by the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group that has run successful campaigns including Arizona's medical-marijuana law in 2010 and the Colorado adult-use legalization law in 2012.

“We’re finding that more than one out of every two registered voters we ask to sign is happy to do it, so that’s a good sign,” Holyoak says in a written statement. “It makes little sense to criminalize adults for choosing to use a product that is safer than one you can currently buy in a grocery store."

Opposition group leader Seth Leibsohn, chairman of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, says he doesn't doubt that the measure will be on the 2016 ballot —  "especially when they spend a million dollars to hire people to collect signatures."

Leibsohn's group, co-led by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, plans to mount a strong and well-financed campaign "to protect the health and brains of our children."

"It makes little sense to criminalize adults for choosing to use a product that is safer than one you can currently buy in a grocery store." — J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona.

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The MPP uses some volunteers for its signature drive, but it has gotten most of its signatures with the help of professional gatherers. The public can find its petitions at various libraries, Motor Vehicle Division offices and local medical-marijuana dispensaries.

The high cost of gathering signatures is one reason the campaign isn't worried about a "crowded ballot," says MPP spokesman Barrett Marson.

Besides the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, Arizonans for Mindful Regulation wants to put its separate ballot measure before voters next year and claims to have gathered about 6,000 signatures as of last month.

Marson, however, doubts the group will come anywhere near to collecting enough signatures: "It takes at least $600,000 [to pay for a campaign] to qualify for the ballot, and it could be a lot more."

The MPP measure has strong financial resources to pull from. Besides the national MPP and donations from the public, the local campaign also is funded by a coalition of medical-marijuana dispensaries that stand to benefit from the legalization measure.

The proposed law would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of pot or five grams of concentrated marijuana, such as hashish, and buy marijuana products, including edibles, through a system of retail shops. Dispensaries would get a head start in the competition by turning into both medical- and recreational-marijuana stores. The proposal would also allow Arizonans to grow up to six plants in their homes for personal use.

An independent study released last month showed the measure could bring Arizona about $72 million yearly in extra tax revenue.

UPDATE: Marson later got back to us on a question we had asked about how much money the campaign has raised so far. He says it's about $550,000. The next round of campaign finance reports are due to the Arizona Secretary of State's office on January 31.