From gathering signatures during the early days of the stay-at-home portion of the COVID pandemic to fighting a legal battle against opponents, it's been a long road for the team behind Smart and Safe Arizona, the citizen initiative that will ask state voters to approve the adult use of recreational marijuana.
But after the Arizona Supreme Court said challengers didn't have a case, the initiative cleared its final hurdle last week and will appear on the November ballot as Proposition 207.
The court supported—without comment—an earlier decision by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James D. Smith on a challenge filed by Arizonans for Health and Public Safety attempting to poke holes in the 100-word summary on petitions to qualify the initiative for the ballot.
"We're thrilled that the Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision," said Stacy Pearson, spokesperson for Strategies 360, the political firm handling the Smart and Safe initiative. "Our 100-word summary aligned with the law and the Supreme Court unanimously agreed, as expected."
Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, a prohibition group opposed to the initiative, filed its original complaint on July 20, alleging the summary on the petitions was misleading. Among the alleged "fraudulent" claims made in the complaint: a perceived "redefinition" of marijuana that includes derivatives of the plant such as hashish and concentrates and arguments that the proposition decreases the standards defining DUI; allows household cultivation that is not taxed and allows unlimited commercial cultivation, and eases regulation of cannabis vis-a-vis underage use.
Smith's 15-page opinion was not sympathetic, as he believed the principal provisions of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act were properly represented, stating that lawyers for legalization foes took 25 pages to describe provisions they said should have been included in a 100-word summary.
In his decision, the judge noted that concentrates are already defined as marijuana under medical marijuana law. Smith pointed out the summary essentially used the same legal definition in its wording.
"Electors are not likely to be confused that legalizing recreational marijuana will include resin extract when the medical marijuana law allows it," he wrote.
According to Ballotpedia, Smith also posited that, "Addressing legalizing a previously illegal substance must account for laws touching many parts of life. But if everything in an initiative is a principal provision, then nothing is."
Now it is up to Arizona voters, who support legalized cannabis in some form to the tune of 62 percent, according to some polling.
Smart and Safe collected a symbolic 420,000 signatures delivered to the Secretary of State's office on July 2, 2020.
On Aug. 10, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs certified the validity of 255,080 signatures and on Aug. 20, the Supreme Court released its unanimous decision, paving the way for the initiative to move forward.
In a press release dated Aug. 20, Arizonans for Health and Public Safety restated its dedication to continue to fight the most recent attempt to legalize weed and expressed disappointment at the Supreme Court's ruling.
"We are disappointed in the decision, which sets a concerning precedent for our voter initiative process going forward," stated Lisa James, chairwoman for Arizonans for Health and Public Safety. "Our goal was to ensure voters were informed. But neither the 100-word statement or this decision will stop us from educating voters from now through November on the dangers of this sweeping 17-page initiative."
They further charged that "Big Marijuana sought to deceive Arizona voters and got away with it" by writing a 17-page initiative that "could have been legalized in two pages."
Arizonans for Heath and Public Safety is largely funded by Center for Arizona Policy Action, a conservative Christian PAC, "whose mission is to promote and defend the foundational values of life, marriage and family, and religious freedom."
Smart and Safe received its largest donation from Harvest Enterprises, Inc. to the tune of $1.2 million. Harvest CEO Steve White is from Tempe and a graduate of Arizona State University.
"When they talk about 'Big Marijuana,' they mean Harvest. Steve White grew up in Tempe," Pearson said. "For pro-business conservatives to paint Harvest as anything but an Arizona success story? He went to school in Tempe and is a graduate of ASU. That's typically what they applaud."
But James is not finished with the fight and plans to take her message to the voters.
"We have a plan to present facts to the voters," she said in a recent interview. "Our state is not better off with legalized marijuana."
When asked if she would support an initiative written differently, James said she is "focused on this one because it's the one we have to work with."
Pot legalization is now in the hands of voters and Smart and Safe has a huge cash advantage over its main opponent, having raised nearly $3.5 million to $142,065.
As to the number of pages in the initiative, Pearson believes that 17 pages is not too many, and that the economic activity legal weed would bring is sorely needed during the COVID crisis, when medical marijuana dispensaries were considered "essential services."
"The opposition confuses me: Marijuana is going to be sold in [licensed dispensaries] much like it is today," she said. "You're not going to be able to go into Safeway and buy it in the produce section. ... Just because it's legal doesn't mean you have to consume it."