Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs confirmed in a tweet on Tuesday what cannabis advocates have worked toward for months: The Smart and Safe Arizona campaign successfully submitted 255,080 valid signatures to her office, landing an adult use legalization initiative on the November ballot.
After Arizona voters failed to approve adult-use cannabis via ballot the last time around, in 2016—while voters in four other states did—the Smart and Safe initiative’s qualification marks another shot at legalization. A recent poll from OH Predictive Insights shows that the chances that voters will pass legalization are good, with 62% of Arizona voters in both rural and suburban areas saying that they “believe that marijuana should be legalized for adult use in the State of Arizona.”
“We’re obviously ecstatic that we got through this hurdle. But our excitement is tempered by the fact that we still have hearts and minds to win over between now and November 3,” Samuel Richard, executive director of the Arizona Dispensaries Association, told Cannabis Wire.
Smart and Safe’s initiative would legalize the purchase, possession, and use of cannabis for adults age twenty-one and older, allow for individuals to grow up to six plants at home, and allow some people convicted of cannabis-related crimes to apply for expungement of their records. The framework would also direct money from the 16% excise tax on cannabis sales toward schools, law enforcement, fire departments, and a “highway user revenue fund.” In a revised draft, it also sets aside twenty-six licenses for applicants from communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
Legalization will also create a more lucrative market for the multi-state cannabis operators who funded the Smart and Safe campaign throughout their signature push. Three companies that hold medical cannabis licenses in the state—and will get a chance to apply early for adult use licenses, along with other medical licensees—donated. Curaleaf, Cresco Labs, and Harvest Enterprises, Inc, also known as Harvest Health and Recreation, contributed $200,000, $300,000 and $1,425,000 to the campaign, respectively. MedMen contributed $200,000 before it decided to sell its Arizona businesses.
The path forward for Smart and Safe hasn’t been without hurdles, however. During the pandemic, the campaign’s bid to collect online signatures failed and organizers pushed ahead with in-person petitioning. Opposition group Arizonans for Health and Public Safety also filed a lawsuit at the end of July against Smart and Safe and the Arizona Secretary of State for the language of the 100-word summary of the ballot initiative, which they argued was misleading. The national anti-legalization group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, has supported this opposition group. “We advised them and consulted on legal strategy and additionally have contributed funds to the effort,” Colton Grace, communications director for SAM, told Cannabis Wire.
On August 7, the Maricopa County Superior Court rejected the challenges, but Richard said that Smart and Safe expects an appeal from Arizonans for Public Health and Safety, adding, “We’re going to act as if we’re five points down every day between now and November 3. Functionally, we’re not able to fully celebrate until we’re through this legal challenge.”
Meanwhile, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has also publicly opposed the ballot initiative. In a compilation of arguments for and against state ballot initiatives prepared by the Secretary of State’s office, Ducey’s statement “against” the Smart and Safe initiative argued that cannabis would be dangerous to teens, infants, and Arizona drivers. He wrote, “In 2016, Arizona voters rejected legalizing recreational marijuana because it was a bad deal based on false promises. Today, the same is true with this new ballot measure. That’s why I’m asking you to vote ‘NO’ again.”