Arizona Voters May Have Recreational Cannabis on the 2020 Ballot

Arizona tried and failed to get voters to say yes to recreational cannabis in 2016. Now, a campaign is underway to give them another chance in 2020.

A campaign is underway in Arizona to put the question of recreational cannabis legalization on the ballot for 2020. The group spearheading the effort, Smart and Safe Arizona, was behind a push to legalize cannabis in 2016. Their previous campaign faced major opposition from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. But Smart and Safe Arizona says their new proposal addresses the problems and concerns state officials had with the 2016 measure. The current proposal would allow adults 21 and over to legally possess up to an ounce of cannabis.

The last time Arizona tried to legalize recreational cannabis, the state tried to do it through the legislature. In 2018, a bipartisan pair of House lawmakers introduced a bill to legalize possession up to an ounce and permit home cultivation of up to six mature plants. The bill also would have banned public smoking, and like statutes in many states, it would have let municipalities opt out. But Representatives Todd Clodfelter and Mark Cardenas couldn’t get their proposal past the judiciary committee.

This time, however, Arizona legalization advocates want to put the issue directly to voters. It’s the same approach the state took in 2016, when voter initiative Proposition 205 made it onto the ballot, only to lose by fewer that 100,000 votes.

But this time is different, says Stacy Pearson, who’s leading the campaign to get recreational legalization on the 2020 ballot. “It’s just simply a better policy,” Pearson said. “We’ve had four additional years to see what’s happened nationally,” she added.

In 2016, 899,605 people voted in favor of Proposition 205. And to get the new measure on the ballot, Smart and Safe Arizona only needs to collect about 240,000 signatures. Smart and Safe Arizona has already filed the paperwork with the Secretary of State to put its proposed measure on the ballot. The high likelihood that the campaign will succeed could pressure lawmakers to forward their own proposal ahead of a voter referendum in 2020.

Arizona Divided on Cannabis Legalization

Arizona has had legal medical cannabis since 2010, when Proposition 203 eked by with 50.1 percent of the vote. That split over cannabis has persisted, and well-funded opposition could hinder the latest push to put recreational legalization to voters in 2020. This time, however, advocates feel like they have the evidence and the arguments to convince the opposition to change its tune.

Pearson said the argument her campaign hears most is that cannabis products aren’t safe. But that “doesn’t mean it’s not here,” Pearson said. “What we’re asking voters to do is take something that is on the black market currently and move it to a place where it’s tested, taxed, controlled, regulated, and ensure that it’s not being sold to minors.”

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce has stated it’s willing to give legalization proposals a new hearing. But in light of past opposition, the burden of proof will be high. “The new initiative for the 2020 ballot—we’ll look at it with fresh eyes,” said Garrick Taylor, Senior Vice President, Government Relations & Communications for the Chamber of Commerce.

That look should pick out a few different things this time around. Borrowing for successful legalization measures in other states, Smart and Safe Arizona’s proposal includes provisions for expunging criminal records for prior marijuana convictions. It would also ban certain “candy-type” edibles in an effort to head off arguments about legalization’s risk to children.

Tax provisions in the new proposal might also bring some state officials on board. The measure would tax retail sales like any other consumer product, while including an excise tax of 16 percent. Smart and Safe Arizona says revenue from excise taxes alone could raise more than $300 million for the state budget.

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