Friday, August 14, 2020
Arizona Legalization Initiative Survives Lawsuit
An Arizona voter initiative that would legalize the recreational use of cannabis by adults has survived a legal challenge by opponents, who argued that the ballot summary for the measure failed to properly inform voters. In a ruling released on Friday, Judge James Smith rejected all arguments of attorneys for Arizonans for Health And Public Safety.
The group filed the lawsuit last month, arguing that the 100-word word summary for the Smart and Safe Arizona Act ballot act did not accurately describe the initiative and therefore misinformed voters. If passed, the measure would legalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by adults and create a tax and regulatory framework for commercial marijuana production and sales. The office of the Arizona Secretary of State is now in the process of verifying the signatures to ensure that enough registered voters have signed petitions to include the initiative on the ballot for the general election.
“The proponent’s summary of the initiative is confusing and deceptive in numerous ways, beginning with the very definition of marijuana,” John Shadegg, a former congressman and one of the attorneys who filed the suit, said at the time.
The suit alleges, among other things, that a passage of the summary that says the initiative would “protect employer and property owner rights” is misleading. The plaintiffs also challenged the fact that the summary did not specify that the measure would legalize not just marijuana flower, but all forms of cannabis including extracts and concentrates.
“The summary misled signatories and will mislead voters who may support the legalization of ‘marijuana’ but not the more potent forms of ‘cannabis,’” Shadegg said.
The suit also maintained that the summary should have noted that the 16% tax rate imposed by the initiative on cannabis sales could not be raised without another vote of the people. The summary also should have included information about a provision of the initiative that makes possession of marijuana by a person younger than 21 a civil infraction instead of a felony, the suit alleged.
“These omissions and statements misled voters who signed the petition about what the initiative would do,” said Lisa James, the chairwoman of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety.
Judge Rejects Prohibitionists
In his ruling, Smith said that the opponents of the initiative were attempting to impose their personal beliefs on the content of the summary without a legal basis.
“Petitioners may believe the initiative should put more limits on possessing, using, or cultivating marijuana,” he wrote. “Those are policy arguments for the voters. That competing policy perspective does not mean the summary violates the law.”
The judge also noted that the plaintiffs’ assertion that the initiative reduced the penalties for minors convicted of cannabis offenses was untrue.
“In fact, (the initiative) includes penalties for underage possession,” Smith wrote. “Yes, minors possessing marijuana now may face charges that are more serious.”
At a hearing on the lawsuit earlier in the week, Smith suggested how he might rule, noting that “there’s nothing in this description that is actually wrong.”
With Smith’s ruling, the initiative is one step closer to making it to November’s ballot. The plaintiffs have five days from Friday, the day the judge’s decision was handed down, to file an appeal.