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Blowing Smoke 

Anti-pot prohibitionists sue to keep recreational use prop off November ballot

Opponents of the effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona filed a legal challenge in Maricopa County Superior Court last week in an attempt to stop the initiative from making the state's November ballot.

But rather than challenge the validity of the signatures, Arizonans for Health and Public Safety is taking issue with what they call misleading language in Smart and Safe Arizona's 100-word summary. Among other complaints, they say the group redefines marijuana because the initiative includes cannabis extracts along with marijuana flower. The opposition group believes marijuana extracts should be defined differently since they contain more THC than typical marijuana buds.

"Cannabis THC is highly concentrated," said Arizonans for Health and Public Safety chair Lisa James. "For example, five grams of marijuana concentrate that they allow is approximately 2,800 doses of pure THC for one person."

Dr. Heather Moroso of Moroso Medical Center is skeptical of James' argument regarding concentrates. The Arizona Supreme Court decided in 2019 that marijuana concentrates are legal for medical marijuana patients after a Yavapai County man was arrested for having hashish purchased legally from a dispensary. As a doctor, she said she sees the medical benefits marijuana gives those who suffer from conditions like seizures and coping with cancer treatments.

"I think concentrates are a derivative of marijuana. It's still marijuana in its essence but it's been purified," Moroso said. "Medically, it allows you to create precise dosages with other methods of delivery instead of smoking, which isn't the best way to do it."

Moroso said she supports some regulation of concentrates should voters approve recreational use of the plant in November, but believes banning concentrates and keeping cannabis flower would be wrong.

"There should be a certain amount of regulation that should be included in the law. But I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater," Moroso said. "You can still get an ounce of flower, smoke it and get the same effects you would with concentrates. It's like banning vodka and keeping beer."

The group's lawsuit also says the Smart and Safe Arizona proposition essentially removes restrictions on weed-impaired drivers by not relying on marijuana metabolites tests to check if a person is impaired while driving.

"(Smart and Safe) eliminates all current marijuana DUI violations based on the percentage of marijuana impairing metabolites in the driver's system," James said. "That's no longer enough to convict for a DUI."

Critics of marijuana metabolite testing cite the test's unreliability to determine when the last time a person used marijuana since those metabolites can stay in a person's system for weeks or months.

Other complaints James and her fellow plaintiffs cite as reasons they're challenging the initiative: Smart and Safe allows commercial marijuana companies to advertise without restriction; it significantly reduces penalties for underage use; it allows unlimited cultivation for larger companies; and it doesn't tax homegrown cannabis, according to James.

"There are no limits on the amount of marijuana and cannabis a licensed business can produce," James said. "The only limitations are on homegrown but that's not taxed."

James said she is confident their challenge will knock Smart and Safe Arizona off the Nov. 3 ballot. However, should the lawsuit fail, James said they will take their message to the voters before election day.

"We feel very confident in our arguments and our team. We wouldn't be investing the dollars to do this if we weren't confident. But we're prepared to take our arguments to the voters," James said. "We feel that once voters are clear that (Smart and Safe Arizona) isn't just legalizing marijuana, this is 17 pages of sweeping changes to Arizona law. Voters need to understand exactly what it's going to do and we have a message for them."

Stacy Pearson, spokesperson for Strategies 360—the political firm handling the initiative—dismissed lawsuit is a "Hail Mary" to invalidate their initiative.

"I would call their challenge bonkers," Pearson said. "It's a desperate, last-minute attempt to change the trajectory of this campaign because they know our signatures are valid and the public is behind it. I think they're likely spending all of their limited resources on this Hail Mary. It's tough to predict but they are bound by limited resources and a public that isn't standing with them."

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