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Arizona may surprise with marijuana vote

Arizonans may raise some eyebrows this fall by voting in favor of a ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana, according to the state’s former health director.

“It’s a much more conservative state than Colorado, but we have a real libertarian streak and so we might surprise people across the country,” said Will Humble, a neutral voice in what has been an often rancorous debate over the initiative, and one that has provoked a lawsuit aimed at blocking any vote.

Recreational marijuana has been legally for sale in Colorado since January 2014. Arizona is set to vote in November on whether to approve the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (RTMA). 

The Secretary of State’s office on Tuesday published submissions arguing for and against the initiative.

Businesses, county attorneys, politicians, private individuals, the state’s Catholic Bishops, and Gov. Doug Ducey were among those who weighed in against the proposed act.

Written submissions in support were fewer in number, but included trial attorneys and even two former Drug Enforcement Agency agents.

Humble, until last year the head of Arizona’s Department of Health Services, also wrote a submission on behalf of the Arizona Public Health Association, of which he is a board member. But he filed it under both pro and con, because the association sees an upside and downside to legalization.

“The for and against are very polarized,” Humble told AMI Newswire. “We did not really want to persuade, but to educate, to give information.”

The association also wanted as many voters as possible to see its message, that there are benefits and drawbacks.

Humble argued that the public health benefits include decriminalization for possession of small amounts of marijuana, currently a felony in Arizona. Violence associated with an illegal trade may also be reduced, while the state can also monitor and regulate production and potency.

But the association sees risks of increased access among adolescents, and to the public, including impaired driving and workplace accidents.

The pro-initiative group, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, submitted 258,582 petition signatures June 30. It needs just 150,000 to put the issue to a vote, and election officials are currently checking how many of those submitted are valid.

But the  Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Arizonans for a Responsible Drug Policy (ARDP), and county attorneys filed a lawsuit July 11 to block any vote, claiming the initiative is “misleading” and “incoherent and confusing,” and as such violates the Arizona constitution.

In a statement issued following the filing of the lawsuit, Seth Leibsohn, ARDP chairman, described the initiative as “so far reaching, so self-contradicting, and so misleading it cannot possibly or accurately be summarized by its title and text.”

“This lawsuit highlights the wide-ranging impacts the RTMA would impose on everything from law enforcement to education to landlord/tenant law to employment law to family law,” Leibsohn said.

J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the pro-marijuana campaign, described the lawsuit as a demonstration that opponents “are willing to do and say just about anything to maintain the failed policy of marijuana prohibition.”

“This lawsuit is simply a desperate attempt to deprive Arizona voters of the right to vote on this ballot question,” Holyoak told AMI Newswire Tuesday.

Among those opposed to the initiative is  Ducey. In his submission published Tuesday, the governor wrote: “The marijuana industry wrote this ballot measure to benefit themselves.

“It’s 20 pages long and filled with loopholes and special treatment for companies already in the marijuana business, and it creates a new Commission and a new state Department. It’s self-enrichment at its worst, and Arizonans will pay the price.”

Public filings reveal that the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has spent  $2.2 million on the campaign, with the largest amount, $840,000, coming from the Washington-headquartered Marijuana Policy Project.

Most of that money has come from the marijuana industry, mainly from medical marijuana dispensaries in Arizona, including $135,000 from Arizona Grassroots Dispensary.

Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has raised $638,000, with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce contributing $60,000. The biggest individual donation came from Randy Kendrick, the wife of Arizona Diamondbacks owner, Ken Kendrick.

Leibsohn wrote in his submission: “This proposition enriches dispensary owners at a dramatic cost to the rest of the state. That price is just too high to pay — for our children, for our businesses, for our health services, for our education system, and truly, for everyone else.”

Holyoak countered that opponents are “doing everything in their power to keep marijuana production and sales in an uncontrolled underground market.

“Cartels and gangs are probably quietly cheering them on right now, as they are the ones who would benefit most if this lawsuit is successful.”