2020 marijuana legalization effort prepping for launch

By: - May 6, 2019 6:35 am

Photo by Chuck Grimmett | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Advocates of legalized marijuana are hoping to take the lessons they learned from their defeat in 2016 and put them to good use next year.

The campaign for a 2020 citizen initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona hopes to launch in late May or early June. Political consultant Stacy Pearson, whose firm is running the campaign, said that will give it a full year to collect signatures. The campaign must collect 237,645 valid signatures by July 2, 2020, to qualify for that year’s ballot.

A campaign committee, Smart and Safe Arizona, was formed in March. It has already reported bringing in a $100,000 contribution from a Tempe-based medical marijuana company.

The campaign is still finalizing the language for the initiative, and Pearson said the details are still being worked out. But the campaign is crafting the initiative with an eye toward negating some of the opposition’s talking points from 2016, when Proposition 205, dubbed the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, lost by less than 3 percentage points.

Pearson said the new campaign expects a better outcome next year. First, the campaign is meeting with 2016 foes from the business community, law enforcement and other realms, looking to address concerns they had last time. Pearson said the campaign will ensure that the new initiative gives law enforcement the tools it needs to ensure safe roads and public spaces, that employers will be able to prohibit use by their employees, and that the revenue from legalized marijuana goes toward education, public safety and public health.

The campaign also has the benefit of numerous examples in other states that didn’t exist in 2016. Voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada legalized recreational pot that year, following in the footsteps of Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., two years earlier, and Colorado and Washington state two years before that. Michigan voters and the Vermont legislature followed suit last year.

Pearson said the Arizona campaign can model its initiative on best practices from other states and can see problems that have cropped up elsewhere, such as the number of licenses granted to dispensaries and issues surrounding public use, then craft its language to avoid them.

“The last four or five years of this have been light years in terms of industry development and maturity. So, this isn’t an experiment anymore in the Western states. There are things that have worked that can be replicated and things that haven’t worked in other states that can be avoided,” Pearson said. “It’s a smarter, better researched, more mature industry and campaign.”

Another thing that may work in the campaign’s favor is a political climate that’s expected to favor Democrats. Pearson said heavier Democratic turnout will likely help, but that the campaign isn’t counting on that and is taking nothing for granted.

Some opponents of the 2016 measure are reserving judgment until they see what the language looks like. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who chaired the successful campaign against Prop. 205, indicated that she’ll be involved in the opposition campaign but declined to comment until the initiative is actually filed and she can see the language.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry spent heavily to oppose the 2016 legalization measure, amid concerns regarding marijuana in the workplace. It also worried that, had the initiative passed, legislators would be unable to amend it to address unforeseen problems because the new marijuana laws would be protected by the Voter Protection Act, spokesman Garrick Taylor said.

Taylor said the chamber’s board of directors will assess any 2020 legalization initiative and couldn’t commit to any position for now. But, he said, “if there is a willingness to solicit the opinion of employers and understand employers’ unique needs, we would welcome that.”

Pearson expects 2020 to be the most expensive election cycle in Arizona history, and said Smart and Safe Arizona will have the money it needs to compete.

The Marijauna Policy Project, a national organization that has traditionally funded medical and recreational marijuana initiatives across the country, chipped in $1.5 million of the $6.5 million the campaign raised in 2016, making it the largest single contributor to Prop. 205. Pearson said MPP is effectively out of the game now. But thanks to the proliferation of medical and recreational marijauna legalization, there are now plenty of companies that can help fund the campaign.

Harvest Enterprises Inc., a $1.5 billion cannabis company based in Tempe, kicked in the first $100,000, and CEO Steve White told the Mirror his company will help the campaign however it can. Between grassroots supporters and the dispensary community, Pearson said Smart and Safe Arizona will have the resources it needs for a multimillion-dollar campaign.

There is little doubt that the inevitable opposition campaign will be well-funded as well. Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which opposed Prop. 205, raised nearly $6.4 million in 2016, with Gov. Doug Ducey raising about $5 million of that himself.

“The governor’s position on this issue is clear,” said Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak. “There will be plenty of time for campaigns next year. We’ll review anything that makes the ballot at the appropriate time.”

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”