A fresh attempt to legalize recreational marijuana is underway
Last week, legalization advocates in Arizona filed paperwork to bring the question of recreational cannabis to voters in 2020. The measure—called the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, would allow for some home growing, updates impaired driving policies, and includes social justice reforms such as post-conviction relief. To move forward, proponents need to collect 238,000 signatures by July 2020 – which appears to be fairly likely.
A similar measure narrowly failed in 2016, when it fell short by only 2 percentage points. The current plan is backed by many who were involved in the earlier effort, who crafted the current measure by utilizing lessons learned from the last attempt and cues from other states who successfully legalized.
However, the Arizona state legislature thinks they have a better idea—Attorney General Mark Brnovich is urging lawmakers to beat voters to the punch and enact the law themselves, rather than risk an industry-written measure winning at the ballot box.
Their concern is that a measure crafted by cannabis advocates would be more susceptible to problematic issues that one crafted by lawmakers. Last week, Brnovich told the Capitol Times that the issues are far too complex to be left to a take-it-or-leave-it ballot measure, and said that they deserve more discussion than 30-second TV ads pushed by proponents and foes. “Generally speaking, as a matter of public policy, the public policy makers, i.e. the Legislature, should step up and address issues so voters don’t have to do it via the initiative process,” Brnovich said.
Even Gov. Doug Ducey, a vocal opponent of recreational use, has expressed openness to such an approach an alternative to a voter-led initiative.
Arizona voters have been down similar roads before. In 1996, voters approved a measure to legalize medical marijuana. The following year, the Legislature effectively overturned the measure. As a result, voters shortly thereafter passed new legislation that required substantial agreement in order to change any law that was passed by voter initiative. Basically—they were trying to ensure that the government never again overran the will of the people.
The Voter Protection Act, as it’s known, prohibits lawmakers from repealing or modifying anything approved at the ballot box. Changes are allowed only with a majority vote of both the House and Senate, and only when those changes “further the purpose” of the original measure.
Because this clause makes it frighteningly difficult to make changes to laws passed by voters, the government is concerned that the upcoming ballot measure could be filled with holes that are not easily remedied. Their concerns are not unfounded. Vagueness in Arizona’s medical marijuana law has led to some painful court battles in the past – like when a Yavapai County man was arrested and jailed for possessing hashish several years ago. Although he was a card-carrying medical marijuana patient, prosecutors argued that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act didn’t allow for hash, but only smokeable flower. The case made it all the way up to the state’s supreme court before being overturned.
Either way, it appears that legalization is all but inevitable in Arizona in 2020. It would certainly follow the tide of the rest of the nation. Just how the process will unfold is anyone’s guess, though. Watch this space for more as it happens!
Christina Rock is a Seattle-based writer and photographer who loves late sixties music and days that go better than planned.