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Taking a Different Approach to Legalization in Arizona


One of the states to keep an eye on this year is Arizona, where several groups have come together to launch a major effort to get adult-use cannabis legalization on the statewide ballot. 

The initiative from Smart and Safe Arizona is “a smart, safe and responsible way, 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.”

So far, backers of the measure say they have collected over 150,000 signatures of the 237,000+ they will need by July 2nd. And with little opposition to the measure itself yet in the state, things are shaping up to be much different than the narrowly-failed campaign of 2016.

“The big difference between 2016 and now has been the campaign’s approach to the public,” Mikel Weisser, Executive Director of NORML in Arizona, told The Marijuana Times. “In 2016 the aloof campaign not only disregarded and disrespected the concerns of the cannabis community, but also discouraged our involvement. AZ’s MMJ community, thanks to social media and pre-med program trade networks, is extraordinarily interconnected. The urban backlash coalesced into a statewide no-vote movement that included both patients and non-patients.”

As rural field director for the campaign, Mikel has been travelling around the state reaching out to voters that he says were ignored in 2016. “So far, the attitude among the MMJ community has been MUCH more supportive,” he said. “A brief NO vote effort appears to have fizzled. This language includes expansive consumer protections and criminal justice reforms, so it’s easier for folks to like. In rural Arizona the response has been phenomenal. Thus far, we’ve visited 43 rural communities since the final at the beginning of October and are on track to visit over 100 before we turn in signatures in June.”

Another difference between the effort this year and 2016 is the amount of time the people behind the measure took to get it right. “This round, in addition to consulting on the initiative language, the #SmartandSafeArizona campaign spent an additional 6 months meeting with stakeholders, and, after the initial filing, held a 6 week public/legislative comment period and made over a dozen amendments before the final filing,” Mikel told us.

So far, an organized, well-funded opposition has yet to emerge in Arizona, but there is still plenty of time. In 2016, groups opposed to legalization received over $6 million in donations. A lot has changed in four years, including new adult-use states like Nevada and California on Arizona’s border. Cannabis is much more accepted than it was even a few years ago across the country as more people see just how beneficial legalization can be and see that the doom-and-gloom predictions of prohibitionists fail to materialize.

Things are looking good for legalization this year in Arizona, but there are still almost 10 months until Election Day. A lot can happen in that time, so if you’re an activist in the state, now is not the time to be complacent.

Opportunities must be seized when they can be; you never know how long it will be until another  attempt can be made to bring more freedom to the citizens of Arizona, so it is critical that this effort is not wasted.