A ballot measure to legalize marijuana in Arizona in 2020 that has the support of major industry stakeholders was filed with the secretary of state on Friday.
The Smart & Safe Arizona Initiative would allow individuals 21 and older to possess, consume, cultivate and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. It would also create a pathway for individuals with prior convictions to have their records expunged and proposes using some tax revenue from legal sales to invest in communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Other revenue, which will be raised in part through a 16 percent excise tax on marijuana sales, would go toward the state’s community colleges and also fund public health and safety programs as well as infrastructure projects.
Several provisions would directly benefit the medical marijuana companies currently operating in Arizona and who are supporting the initiative. For example, existing dispensaries in good standing with the state would get licensing priority to establish adult-use shops, with the Department of Health Services randomly selecting licensees for additional retailers after those are approved.
Dispensary chains MedMen, Harvest Health and Recreation and Curaleaf Holdings are reportedly among those funding the new legalization campaign.
But while the measure includes certain industry-friendly provisions, advocates applauded its inclusion of a home cultivation option. A medical cannabis industry association based in New York faced backlash from advocates earlier this year after it was reported that it sent a document to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recommending that the state prevent consumers from growing their own marijuana at home.
MedMen was among the companies listed as members of the association at the time, though a representative later told Marijuana Moment that the business supports giving adults the right to grow their own cannabis.
There are some significant restrictions on edibles included in the initiative. Marijuana products that look like candy marketed toward children (i.e. gummy bears and gummy worms) wouldn’t be allowed. And edibles would be limited to 10mg per serving.
For social justice-minded advocates, including equity provisions that acknowledge and attempt to repair the harms of the drug war, particularly on communities of color, is critical to any legalization system. To that end, the Smart & Safe Arizona Initiative takes steps to address the issue.
Individuals with prior low-level cannabis convictions would be empowered to petition for an expungement, and if those applicants meet the requirements to have their records cleared, they must be approved unless law enforcement proactively intervenes and provides “clear and convincing evidence” that the petitioner is ineligible.
Marijuana tax revenue that’s deposited in a new “Justice Reinvestment Fund” would be used to fund grants for equity-centric programs within county health departments and the state health services department.
The initiative defines “justice reinvestment programs” that would qualify for grants as those that support “jail diversion, workforce development, industry specific technical assistance and mentoring services” for disproportionately impacted communities, those that address “the underlying causes of crime and reducing the prison population,” those that facilitate expungements and those that provide “evidence-based” substance abuse treatment.
“I’m encouraged to see major initiatives include expungement and community investment as vital pieces of the proposal,” Jason Ortiz, vice president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Marijuana Moment. “This is yet another example of social equity programs being the gold standard for any legalization bill, and we look forward to more closely reviewing this initiative and offering our support to help advance justice for communities of color in Arizona.”
Mikel Weisser, state director of Arizona NORML, told Marijuana Moment that “this language serves as both a 2019 state-of-the-art cannabis program and reflects the mindset of the ‘average’ Arizona voter.”
“I do not expect the concerns we faced from the existing cannabis community about insufficient provisions,” Weisser said. “This round the campaign is trying to reach out to a MUCH wider community. Arizona has shifted towards supporting cannabis in general and this language better reflects the real life experience of the cannabis consuming public than 2016 did.”
Arizona ACLU board member Roopali Desai, along with advocates from the Drug Policy Alliance and Law Enforcement Action Partnership, helped draft the initiative language while soliciting input from multiple industry stakeholders, according to Arizona Cannabis Monthly.
Advocates must collect 237,645 valid signatures from voters by July 2, 2020 in order to put the measure on the ballot.
While the marijuana reform movement has scored numerous victories throughout the ballot process in recent years, Arizona activists face a unique challenge given that the state’s voters rejected a legalization proposal in 2016 and only narrowly approved a medical cannabis legalization initiative in 2010.
Also working against organizers is the fact that Gov. Doug Ducey (R) is no fan of legalization and recently applauded the rejection of the 2016 measure.
With industry backing and a growing appetite for reform nationwide, however, it seems likely that activists will have more to work with heading into 2020 if the measure qualifies for the ballot.
Read the full text of the proposed Arizona marijuana legalization initiative below:
Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash.