Arizona won’t be joining the ranks of states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, at least not this year.
A political action committee formed by cannabis activists has announced it’s giving up its effort to put legalization on the statewide ballot in November. The group, Safer Arizona, was gathering signatures until the announcement, but decided not enough people were signing.
Supporters needed nearly 260,000 signatures to get their proposal on the ballot in the fall. They weren’t coming close to that number, said Mikel Weisser, the group’s executive director.
“It was around a third of what we were after,” Weisser said. “It’s not going to be a number that we are rallying behind, it’s a benchmark to improve from.”
Marijuana Community Didn’t Support Ballot Effort
Arizona was never a good bet to legalize weed in 2014. It’s considered a potential target for reform in the future, but Safer Arizona didn’t have the money or manpower to get the initiative on the ballot this time around.
And the group’s proposal irked some in the marijuana industry. It would put licensing in the hands of a revenue-related state agency. Cannabis proponents want the Arizona Department of Health to handle licenses, as it does for medial weed businesses.
“There were people in the dispensary industry and the cannabis establishment that liked our vigor and verve, but a lot of people were worried about what we would do for the business model,” Weisser said.
Advocates Regrouping for 2016
Safer Arizona is treating the development as a setback, not defeat. The group plans to launch another campaign for legalization in 2016, a presidential election when more voters will go to the polls – especially the young voters who back legal pot.
The organization held its first meeting about the 2016 election with the Yavapai Cannabis Coalition June 18.
“One of the things we have is tens of thousands of people who have already signed for us, and hundreds of people who have already volunteered for us, and now we will be able to build out of that a much mightier ballot initiative,” Weisser said.
This wasn’t the first time the bid to legalize in Arizona was declared dead. In January, advocates said they were likely to give up because they weren’t collecting enough signatures. But the campaign continued.
Group Will Unite with Other Advocates for 2016
Leaders of Safer Arizona hope to join with the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest pro-pot lobbying group, in the next effort. The Marijuana Policy Project wrote the ballot initiative that adopted medical marijuana in Arizona and plans to push a new proposal, modeled after legal weed in Colorado.
“Over the next couple years, we will be building a broad coalition of community activists, local leaders, organizations and businesses that are committed to passing a law that regulates marijuana similarly to alcohol,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the national group. “Our strong network of support in the state will be strengthened even further by joining forces with the dedicated activists behind the 2014 effort. Marijuana prohibition’s days are numbered in Arizona.”
Two states have legalized recreational weed: Colorado and Washington, both in 2012. Arizona voters adopted medical pot in 2010 by a narrow margin.
The state is part of an effort by the Marijuana Policy Project to make pot legal in 10 new states by 2017. Arizona is considered a prime target for legalization, though the major players, including the Marijuana Policy Project, opted to wait for 2016 rather than join the push this year.