At a time when drug policy reform campaigns across the country are suspending efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic, marijuana activists in Arizona say they’ve already collected more than enough signatures to qualify a legalization measure for the state’s November ballot.
The Smart and Safe Arizona campaign to legalize cannabis for adult use said it has gathered more than 320,000 signatures—about 80,000 more than is required to make the ballot.
“We’re confident that we’re over the number that we need,” Campaign Manager Stacy Pearson told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Thursday, adding that while the state only verifies signatures after they’re submitted, internal validation by the campaign signals that they’re well ahead of where they need to be to qualify the measure.
In the meantime, the campaign is putting a pause on further signature collection, citing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We got started collecting signatures Labor Day last year so we’re in a position where not much has changed,” Pearson said. “We were significantly ahead of where we planned to be for signatures and we have until July 2 to continue to gather.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. People could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
The measure also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program
Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Resulting revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.
The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.
“We know that voters in Arizona want a taxed, tested, regulated market for legalized marijuana,” Pearson said.
Another campaign spokesperson previously told the website AZ Marijuana that the effort is “in good shape” regardless of the coronavirus.
Members of the Arizona ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance and Law Enforcement Action Partnership helped to draft the initiative.
Should the measure go before voters, it’s not entirely clear how it would fare, as a 2016 legalization proposal was soundly rejected. But in the four years since, more states have opted to legalize and public opinion has continued to shift in favor of reform.
If enough of the signatures that Smart and Safe Arizona collected are valid, it would put the effort in a much better position compared to other reform campaigns across the country. The coronavirus has shuttered businesses, with the public increasingly warned to stay at home, and so activists from California to Washington, D.C. have suspended signature gathering at a pivotal time.
Campaigns to change state marijuana programs, legalize psilocybin mushrooms, legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes, legalize medical and recreational cannabis, decriminalize psychedelics and broadly decriminalize drug possession have all faced challenges amid the pandemic, and several have implored officials to allow electronic signature gathering to overcome the barrier.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.