Marijuana legalization came within 70,000 votes in Arizona of having a perfect record on Election Day. Of the five states with adult-use cannabis legalization measures on the ballot, Arizona’s Prop. 205 was the only one to fail in November, thanks largely to the best-funded opposition effort in the country—and at 51.32 percent opposed to 48.68 percent in favor, the lone setback was a narrow loss.
Barring unprecedented intervention from Donald Trump’s Justice Department, marijuana legalization’s record great success seems to all but guarantee that Arizona voters will consider the question again in 2018.
One citizen-led effort is already afoot—and if Safer Arizona has its way, the state will have some of the most permissive marijuana laws in the country.
The cannabis legalization advocacy group filed paperwork on Thursday to start circulating petitions in order to qualify a legalization effort for the 2018 ballot.
Led by Iraq War veteran David Wisniewski, the group has until July 2018 to collect 152,000 valid signatures from registered Arizona voters to put the measure on the midterm ballot.
Looking forward to filing the Safer Arizona Cannabis Legalization Act today.
— Safer Arizona (@Safer_Arizona) February 16, 2017
The Safer Arizona Cannabis Legalization Act:
(1) legalizes the possession, consumption, cultivation and sales of… https://t.co/TnCQ4NNNgd
— Safer Arizona (@Safer_Arizona) February 15, 2017
If approved, marijuana legalization in Arizona would go a few steps beyond California and Colorado.
The Safer Arizona Cannabis Legalization Act allows adults 21 and over to possess, cultivate and consume cannabis—but it also repeals all criminal penalties related to marijuana entirely, while allowing up to 48 plants to be grown at home. In a nod to Arizona’s conservative voting bloc, the measure also provides “protection for firearm owners” who want to smoke weed—under current law, guns and pot don’t mix well—and also protects the custody rights of parents who use cannabis.
As of now, Safer Arizona appears to be an entirely grassroots effort. It does not have the imprimatur of national reform groups like the Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance, through whom deep-pocketed billionaires like financier George Soros (cue bogeyman music), tech magnate Sean Parker (cue it up on Spotify!) and other movers and shakers funded the successful efforts in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada.
While legalization opponents poured $5.6 million into Arizona’s Prop. 205 opposition campaign, more than all the other states combined—and suffered through near-total opposition from Arizona elected officials, including Governor Doug Ducey—even marijuana legalization supporters weren’t in love with the effort. You heard the usual complaints: it was poorly crafted, it was too much too soon, after the state legalized medical marijuana relatively late, in 2010.
Now’s as good a time as any to mention that Safer Arizona’s Wisniewski in fact opposed the MPP-led Prop. 205. According to the Phoenix New Times, he went on record saying that the legalization initiative was worse than current marijuana prohibition.
His main beef was with Prop. 205’s licensing scheme that would have seen existing dispensaries get first dibs on the rights to run commercial cannabis retail outlets. Whatever the reason, it won’t earn his current effort much love from deep pockets. And even if it did, no purely citizen-led effort has managed to record a major electoral win for weed.
So Safer Arizona is automatically a long shot—and by asking for so much more than six plants and reduced penalties, the odds are even longer. This is at least partially by design.
“This is what people are getting at when they go for cannabis legalization,” Wisniewski said in an interview with an Arizona-based PBS affiliate. “Everything that has passed so far has been investor driven and doesn’t take on the whole problem.”
Maybe. It remains to be seen if the larger marijuana advocacy groups will mount their own effort.
In other states, including California, smaller, poorly-funded signature drives gave way to legalization campaigns funded by the big boys.