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Crucial Contrasts 

Changes in the past four years that could make a difference for chances of legalization

Arizonans could soon have a first look at what 2020 will have in store for another opportunity at legalizing adult-use cannabis.

The Smart and Safe Arizona campaign officially filed organizational paperwork in March and has already raised $100,000 from Harvest of Arizona, whose CEO, Steve White, heads the Arizona Dispensaries Association.

The ADA has enlisted the experience of Strategies 360, a campaign consulting company that led the successful legalization of adult-use cannabis in Alaska in 2014.

Stacy Pearson, a political consultant helping to lead the campaign, hopes to solidify language so the team has a whole year to collect the 237,645 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.

A lot has changed in the past four years, so let's take a look at some factors that might tip the scales in 2020.

More patients. A lot more patients. In May 2015, about the same amount of time away from 2016's vote as we are from 2020's vote now, Arizona had a whopping 73,739 qualifying patients. In April, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 197,025 patients—a 167 percent increase over four years ago.

While many of today's patients were likely advocates in 2016, they now have friends, family members and coworkers more aware of the benefits of cannabis.

They're not the only advocates to join the scene. Several state politicians, such as Republicans Sen. Sonny Borrelli and Attorney General Mark Brnovich have helped soften attitudes towards cannabis use in the state.

The green wave. Since the 2016 vote, 22 states have expanded their cannabis laws. Six have legalized adult-use cannabis, 10 have legalized medical cannabis, four have decriminalized cannabis and two legalized CBD.

Additionally, Canada legalized cannabis nationally and Mexico's highest federal court poised the country to do the same.

"This isn't an experiment anymore," Pearson told the AZ Mirror earlier this month. "There are things that have worked that can be replicated and things that haven't worked in other states that can be avoided. It's a smarter, better researched, more mature industry and campaign."

More young people. People who were freshmen in high school the last time Arizona voted on adult-use cannabis now have the right to vote. And if there's one thing kids agree on these days, it's their cannabis.

Nearly 75 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 support cannabis legalization, according to a 2018 Associated Press poll, and they're not alone. Support for legalization has risen from 42 to 46 among people over the age of 65. A small boost, but an indicative one.

With more young people heading to the ballot box in 2020 and naturally fewer elderly who may have voted against legalization in 2016, the demographics increasingly favor a different outcome.

A stronger statewide industry. Arizona's cannabis industry hasn't always been in lockstep. But this time around, the ADA leads the charge to legalize cannabis. With better organization comes better strategy. Industry leaders have more experience, which is only augmented by the support of Strategies 360.

Additionally, the opposition hasn't had many victories in the past four years.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk's final thrust to make concentrates illegal seemed dead on arrival in the Arizona Supreme Court hearings and will likely serve to only make the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act stronger.

One of the opposition's greatest fundraisers, Insys Therapeutics based in Chandler, was led to the brink of bankruptcy after becoming embroiled in racketeering lawsuits (and at least one wrongful death lawsuit) in several states across the country for illegally pushing opioid medication.

Seven of pharmaceutical company's executives were indicted and founder John Kapoor faces at least a few years of jail time. With its reputation in tatters, big legal bills and a lot less revenue, it's unlikely Insys will be making any bigtime donations to Arizona's anti-legalization campaign this time around.

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