It was already settled fact, but in September Arizona’s highest court made it official: The state’s voters will decide in November whether they want to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
The Arizona Supreme Court handed down a ruling in late August rejecting a legal challenge to a legalization initiative slated to appear on the ballot Nov. 8. The decision clears the last remaining hurdle to a public vote on the issue.
The challenge was filed by an anti-marijuana group, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which says the initiative and its supporters are using unconstitutional “bait-and-switch tactics” and lying to voters. The ballot text is “misleading” and “incoherent,” opponents say, and fails to explain important provisions.
Anti-marijuana argument dismissed in court
But a lower court dismissed that argument, a ruling the Supreme Court affirmed. The judge who heard the initial lawsuit methodically dismantled opponents’ contentions, but her ruling was based primarily on problems with standing – the plaintiffs’ legal right to sue in the first place.
The Supreme Court, however, opted to take a different approach. Rather than “wade into” a question they considered “murky at best,” the justices instead dismissed the lawsuit on its merits. In the ruling, Chief Justice Scott Bales said the ballot summary substantially complies with laws governing voter referendums.
The ruling could prove important to the future of cannabis reform in other states, but its most critical effect is ensuring legalization will appear on the Arizona ballot on Election Day.
Prop 205 would allow adult use of up to 1 oz of marijuana
If the initiative passes, adults aged 21 or older would be allowed to buy, carry, and use up to 1 ounce of marijuana. They would also be able to grow up to six pot plants at home in an enclosed space and keep the resulting cannabis at home.
The proposal is similar to laws passed in Colorado and Washington in 2012 and in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia in 2014. It would treat cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol, with a 15 percent sales tax used to pay for public school construction and other education programs.
Advocates quickly praised the Supreme Court ruling. Barrett Marson, spokesman for the statewide Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, called it “a good day for voters who want to end marijuana prohibition in Arizona.
Arizona’s voters will decide
“Voters will get the opportunity that they requested,” Marson said. “More than 258,000 people signed a petition to put this before the voters. The Supreme Court agreed voters should have the final say on whether adults should have the right to legally purchase marijuana.”
Activists needed 151,000 voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, and more than 175,000 were ultimately certified as valid. Opponents of the measure say they will now work to directly convince Arizonans to vote it down.
“Our goal now is to make sure that every Arizonan enters the voting booth in November with a full understanding of both the intended and the unintended impacts of the 20 pages of new laws in Prop. 205,” said Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk. “We hope all citizens will read the lengthy legalese before voting and will learn how devastating Proposition 205 would be to our state if passed.”
The high court ruling came about the same time a Maricopa County judge ordered a small change to the Prop. 205 ballot text. Judge James Blomo ruled that state officials mistakenly inserted language saying the law would apply to adults “over 21,” when in reality it would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older.
Tell us: Do you think Arizona voters will legalize marijuana in November? How would that effect reform elsewhere? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.