arizona legalization

Arizona’s Best Shot for Legalization in 2020

Ask any Arizona cannabis industry insider and they will likely tell you the same thing: Legalization in 2020 is almost a sure bet.

In recent months, marijuana activists and politicians have coalesced around a single proposal that seems poised to succeed this year. The Smart and Safe Arizona initiative, which would legalize cannabis for anyone over 21, quickly gathered over 300,000 signatures – well over the required 237,645 required to be listed on ballots in November 2020.

Tellingly, the campaign is being spearheaded by powerhouse PR firm Strategies 360, who ran Alaska’s 2014 effort to legalize – the only other successful pot legalization campaign in a red state. The Safe and Smart Act also has the support of the best-funded PAC in the state, and according to media sources, they raised some $2.7 million by early 2020 due to contributions from dispensaries like Harvest and Curaleaf.

The timing couldn’t be better. According to polling by Pew, 59 percent of American adults say cannabis should be legal for medical and recreational use, and 11 states already have legalized. Arizona already has a huge medical marijuana community, with over 225,000 enrolled patients. Moreover, early polling indicates that over 50 percent of Arizona residents said they would support legalization, according to a 2019 survey by OH Predictive Insights.

Campaign organizers say: “This initiative to legalize, regulate and tax the adult use of marijuana was developed in that spirit. We took our time. We studied other states’ successes and mistakes. We considered Arizona’s priorities—education, public safety, public health and critical infrastructure. And ultimately, this initiative creates an opportunity for new revenue and jobs without compromising our principals.” –

So what does the initiative actually say?

Here are some key facts:

  • Legalizes the sale, possession, and consumption of one ounce of marijuana (of which 5 grams can be concentrate) for adults at least 21 years old
  • Allows home cultivation of up to 6 cannabis plants at an individual’s primary residence (up to 12 plants if two adults reside there)
  • Establishes over 100 recreational marijuana dispensaries
  • Marijuana will be sold with a 16 percent excise tax (a rate lower than most other legal states)
  • Decriminalizes many marijuana-related offenses

According to the initiative’s website, the act also has some public safety provisions, likely helpful to ease the minds of less-enthusiastic voters:

  • Bans smoking marijuana in public places like restaurants and open spaces like sidewalks and parks.
  • Protects children by requiring all packaging be childproof and labeled, bans advertising to children, and bans the sale of gummy bears, gummy worms, and other products that resemble kids’ candy.
  • Increases penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana and gives police departments funding for enforcement, training, equipment, and task forces.

They also claim that it will generate $3 billion in new revenue over the next ten years for the state to fund community colleges, public safety, public health programs, and roads and highways and that the Department of Health Services will receive millions of dollars annually for addiction prevention, substance abuse treatment, suicide prevention, mental health programs, and other justice reinvestment projects.

Unfortunately for advocates of the bill, it’s hard to know how things will pan out as the coronavirus has put a halt to door-to-door campaigning. It is unclear how the pandemic’s spread could influence the rest of the campaign.

What’s more, the failures of 2016—when an earlier effort to legalize failed at the ballot, falling victim to infighting between cannabis groups and intense, well-financed opposition—loom large. Cautious legalization watchers have warned that the state’s attention has been diverted and those who oppose legalization have yet to organize.

We’ll keep you posted with more as it happens! Watch this space.