A coalition of business interests in Arizona has sued to block efforts to legalize marijuana in the November election.
The state’s Chamber of Commerce joined with other business leaders from across Arizona to file the lawsuit against a group pushing for legalization. The group recently turned in more than enough voter signatures to qualify for the ballot Nov. 8.
The Chamber filed the suit in Arizona Superior Court in Phoenix, alleging that activists were circulating fraudulent, misleading fliers urging voters to sign their petition to legalize marijuana. The suit was filed in July.
It’s unclear how strong a case the Chamber has, but there have been no reports of widespread complaints about the legalization initiative. No law enforcement agencies have announced investigations into the Chamber’s claims.
“This lawsuit is simply a desperate attempt to deprive Arizona voters of the right to vote on this ballot question,” said J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the pro-legalization group. “Our opponents are going to great lengths to continue punishing adults for using a substance that is less harmful than alcohol. They 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.”
State elections officials were still reviewing signatures gathered by Holyoak and his group as of early August but were expected to announce soon whether enough of them are valid to put legalization on the ballot. The group needed 151,000 signatures and turned in nearly 260,000.
Claims legalization advocates misled voters
But the lawsuit claims Holyoak and his group misled voters through circulars they handed out describing the initiative. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, one of the plaintiffs and a staunch opponent of legal marijuana, said the petition was circulated under false pretenses and failed to explain the proposal in enough detail, creating “a substantial danger of fraud, confusion and unfairness.”
The suit does not detail specific false statements or directly accuse reformers of lying to voters. Instead, the plaintiffs claim the petition summary isn’t specific enough. In fact, public initiatives are almost always presented to voters in condensed form, since most are far too long to fit on a ballot; the full legalization proposal is 20 pages long.
The plaintiffs also allege that Holyoak and fellow reform advocates failed to create a fund and increased source of revenue to pay for the proposal, as required by the Arizona state constitution. The petition explains that money to fund a regulatory system for legal cannabis would come from the state’s $14 million medical cannabis account.
Arizona is one of several states where legalization is likely to be on the ballot. A proposal in neighboring California is expected to pass by a wide margin, while legalization in Nevada is also possible. If that happens, cannabis will be rendered legal for any adult use along the entire Pacific Coast and most of the Southwest.
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