New initiative seeks to legalize recreational marijuana

Illustration by Christian Ayala.

Following a close defeat in 2016, marijuana advocates introduced a new 2020 voter initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in the state of Arizona.

Officially named the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, the measure — introduced by the Arizona Dispensaries Association, the Arizona branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and others — seeks to legalize and regulate the sale and use of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older.

The act allows individuals to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to six marijuana plants for personal use at any given time. It also creates a commercial permitting and registration process similar to that of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act of 2010, which first allowed the legal sale and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The Smart and Safe Arizona Act designates how tax funds raised by the sale of marijuana will be distributed. Tax funds will be allocated on a percentage basis: 31.4% of funds will be granted to community colleges; 31.4% to police, sheriff and fire departments; 30% to the Arizona Highway User Revenue Fund for highway construction and improvement; 7% to the Justice Reinvestment Fund for substance use prevention and treatment, as well as crime prevention programs; And 0.2% to the Arizona Attorney General’s office for law enforcement purposes.

In terms of restrictions, the initiative bans smoking marijuana in public areas and allows private property owners to ban it from their premises. The act also limits the amount of THC that can be present in marijuana products and bans any packaging or products that are similar to goods marketed toward children or “resemble the form of a human, animal, insect, fruit, toy or cartoon.”

The initiative comes almost three years after Proposition 205, the Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative, fell 1.32% short of passing in the 2016 general election.

Sophomore Leanne Brodie shared her thoughts on the Smart and Safe Arizona Act and its chances considering the failure of the 2016 initiative.

“I support it,” Brodie said. “I’m really hoping so, especially because at the time [Prop 205] was being voted on, I wasn’t old enough to vote. Now, I’m hoping that people who wanted to vote in that are now old enough to vote and will hopefully participate in it.”

Brodie possesses a medical marijuana card in Arizona and explained that the process of acquiring one was relatively simple, but the high cost of medical cards makes them inaccessible for many people, or at least discourages them from trying.

While the measure mostly focuses on the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, Brodie stressed that it could also improve accessibility for medicinal users.

“I think that it would be easier for people to get it medically, especially if people are just curious … but they don’t want to spend $300 to get a medical card to find out if it’s going to help them or not,” Brodie said.

Mikel Weisser, the executive director for Arizona NORML, a cannabis advocacy organization and one of the groups that introduced the initiative, discussed the Smart and Safe Arizona Act.

Weisser said legalization and regulation could make marijuana safer for users and eliminate the dangers of acquiring it illegally, undermining crime in the process.

“We have health and safety standards that are being developed, so I have faith that the future of marijuana is going to be safer and higher quality,” Weisser said. “Legalizing is our best way to curtail the black market, to improve public health and safety, [and] to get funding that is otherwise going to the illegal economy.”

The marijuana advocate expressed optimism over the initiative’s chances in 2020. Weisser said the Smart and Safe Arizona Act is better than the Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative and that the electorate is more open to legalization now than it was in 2016.

“I worked as a volunteer on the 2016 initiative. This one is far superior when it comes to consumer rights,” Weisser said. “The overall culture is to our favor.”

While the Smart and Safe Arizona Act seeks to be decided directly by voters in the 2020 election, the state government could potentially pass marijuana legislation before that. Despite opposition to recreational marijuana in general, top Republican government officials in Arizona could support a legalization bill through the state legislature to set the terms themselves.

According to the Arizona Capitol Times, Attorney General Mark Brnovich suggested in July that legislators address the issue of recreational marijuana before it gets to the ballot box.

“Generally speaking, as a matter of public policy, the public policymakers — i.e., the Legislature — should step up and address issues so voters don’t have to do it via the initiative process,” Brnovich said.

Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, also suggested in the Arizona Capitol Times article that legislators examine the issue.

“Of course I want to protect the will of the voters,” Ducey said in the Arizona Capitol Times article. “But I also think we have a legislative process for a reason, and that’s to adjust and improve policy when we can.”

The Arizona Secretary of State’s office specifies that in order to make it on the 2020 general election ballot, the campaign for the Smart and Safe Arizona Act must receive 237,645 signatures by July 2, 2020. While no figures are currently available regarding how many signatures have been collected, the 2016 Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative reported receiving the required signatures almost three months ahead of the deadline.