SAFER gets Sunk

Arizona’s 2018 recreational cannabis initiative falls short on signatures

In the midst of mayhem over the Arizona Court of Appeals ruling outlawing concentrates, the group SAFER Arizona failed to meet signature requirements by the July 5 deadline to put their recreational cannabis initiative on the ballot this year.

The root of SAFER's problem seems to boil down to a failed publicity campaign and poor management, as the initiative only gathered about half of the 150,642 signatures needed to allow Arizona voters to decide the law.

SAFER Arizona has been pushing their version of legal cannabis for years, but the movement never quite nailed down the intricacies of drafting law.

The initiative never garnered the industry support (and donations) needed to succeed in this kind of endeavor.

Part of that reason lies with the foundation of SAFER's law, which represents a response to Arizona's current medical marijuana program and an idealistic approach to legalization.

One of the measure's items would remove permit requirements for just about anything in the cannabis industry, including growing, distributing or selling.

The idea behind this kind of clause is to open up the cannabis industry to those who were excluded from the first (and second) wave of dispensary licenses due to not having the funding for application fees, property taxes and liquid capital required by the state.

The premise remains wholly unrealistic in modern industry. Just about any business a person could want to open requires starting capital and permits, even lemonade stands.

Additionally, the initiative severely limited taxes on cannabis (and again, just about anything to do with it) and allowed unlimited amounts of possession of cannabis.

These sorts of provisions simply have no chance of success in Arizona's political environment.

Even Prop. 205, which looked much more like other states' recreational cannabis laws, couldn't withstand the brunt of anti-cannabis publicity campaigns.

That said, the law wasn't entirely B.S. Some measures, such as post-conviction relief and protecting cannabis consumers' employment rights, are good ideas when drafting laws.

But SAFER's fatal flaw is its ire toward dispensaries. And if Prop. 205 didn't pass because some people couldn't get over the "monopoly" of Arizona's medical marijuana program, then there's no way SAFER's initiative would pass without industry support.

Dave Wisniewski, the driving force behind SAFER Arizona, deserves some credit in his final statement on the matter. Not only did he take some responsibility for the failure due to his leadership, but he encouraged the community to rally behind a single initiative for 2020.

Initiatives tend to have more success during presidential election years when more voters turn out.

The Arizona Dispensaries Association, Marijuana Industry Trade Association and Arizona NORML all plan on introducing an initiative, ideally the same one, for 2020.

Even Wisniewski outlined reasonable minimum protections for a potential recreational law including home cultivation rights, parental rights, DUI immunity and post-conviction relief.

The best hope for recreational cannabis in Arizona must contain compromises. It's not going to be a law that will please everyone.

In order to get post-conviction relief, we're going to need to allow strict penalties. In order to get home cultivation rights, we're going to need possession limits. In order to get consumer rights, we're going to need consumer responsibilities.

But, like Wisniewski said, the only way we're going to even get to those conversations is by coming to them as a united industry of dispensary owners and cannabis consumers working toward a singular goal.

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