Arizona Marijuana Legalization Campaign Close to Signature Goal

An Arizona citizens' initiative campaign to legalize marijuana announced today that it has reached 200,000 signatures — more than needed to make November's ballot.

But the campaign is shooting for far more than it needs — at least 225,000 signatures — in case some are invalidated.

“Voters want to have their say on whether Arizona should end marijuana prohibition,” said J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “It’s appearing more and more likely that they are going to have that opportunity. We’re finding that most Arizonans agree marijuana should be regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.”

Under the initiative, adults 21 and older would be allowed to be possess up to an ounce of marijuana with no legal penalty, and between an ounce and 2.5 ounces would be a civil offense with a $300 fine. Marijuana would be sold through a system of retail stores governed by a new state agency, the Department of Marijuana Licensing and Control. Adults could also grow up to six plants in their homes, subject to consent of property owners and potential municipal restrictions on "nuisances."

The potential law would add a 15 percent tax to sales at the stores, which could raise $72 million in taxes annually for Arizona schools, according to a Grand Canyon Institute report released in September.

The campaign's signatures will need to be counted, and the eligibility of the voters who signed them verified. But the campaign has until July 7 to turn in 150,642 valid signatures — in other words, chances look good Arizona could be the sixth state to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older.

Or the seventh, eighth, and so on, with ballot initiatives for recreational use this year backed by the national Marijuana Policy Project in Maine and Nevada, plus a potential measure in Massachusetts. Several legalization initiatives may be competing for the votes of Californians this November, as well.

But the signature-gathering process isn't over yet. As difficulties in Maine show, it's best to have to far more than needed to be assured of getting on the ballot. In that state, officials invalidated 48 percent of 99, 229 signatures that were turned in, leaving the campaign short of the needed 61,123. Voters sued, and last week a judge overturned the decision, putting the issue back on course for November's ballot.

CRMLA spokesman Barrett Marson confirms that the goal is to get 225,000 signatures or more.

Behind the paid petition gatherers is strong financial backing by the national MPP and Arizona dispensaries that stand to benefit from the potential law. They've raised nearly a million dollars and spent about half of that, according to the most recent reports in February.

Holyoak and other dispensary operators will have a leg up on the 150-160 retail licenses to be issued under the proposed law. Existing medical-marijuana license-holders are all but guaranteed one of the lucrative recreational licenses, leaving about a third for newcomers. As recent, proposed changes to city of Phoenix ordinances show, these new entrepreneurs could find themselves locked out of urban areas before voters go to the polls.