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Split Up 

The marijuana legalization train continues with five weed-related initiatives now gathering signatures

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The group Safer Arizona officially parted ways with the Marijuana Policy Project, and joined ventures with the organization Arizonans for Mindful Regulation. The latter planned to re-file its own recreational pot ballot measure this week with amended language Safer collaborated with. (They hadn't filed by press time.)

The relationship between MPP and Safer is, well, complicated. Earlier in the year—when some dispensary owners turned on MPP, saying they'd back up their own initiative—Safer announced they had a plan B all along, in case MPP did not comply with the issues Safer felt were most important aside from legalization—total decriminalization of marijuana, unlimited home cultivation rights and a broader retail structure that would prevent what they see as a marijuana monopoly within established dispensaries.

MPP and those dispensary entities eventually reconciled. But it pushed Safer away even further.

Amidst the changes, Mikel Weisser, Safer's former political director, was let go last month over irreconcilable differences. Weisser felt that, although MPP's measure didn't include all of Safer's suggestions, the Washington-based group had given them a middle ground he felt was fair. To members of Safer, the MPP initiative was written "by the dispensaries for the dispensaries."

"At that point I would have just been someone they would argue with," Weisser says. "I am still working with various dispensary leaders and working closely with MPP. This is a ballot measure that I helped write." Still, it was unexpected and felt like a slap in the face, he says. "I had been trying to talk (Safer) out of it for months."

Robert Clark, Safer's co-chairman, says they tried to smooth things over with MPP, but once they felt the negotiations would go nowhere, they dropped out.

In the home cultivation realm, the Arizonans for Mindful Regulation's measure (which is one of roughly five weed-related initiatives submitted to the Secretary of State's Office gathering signatures at the moment. There are also a couple for hemp and another asking for the legalization of all drugs), would allow for 12 plants per individual with an unlimited amount per household. So, if you have proof that there are seven people living at your house, then you'd legally be allowed to grow 84 plants.

On MPP's, the rule is six plants per person, with a limit of 12 per household, no matter how many people occupy the house.

"Where they can, they will destroy the ability of the people to grow marijuana on their own...they also give a city or county the authority to say that smoking marijuana or growing marijuana is a nuisance. We know most of the communities in this state are going to do that," Clark says. "The ones who can afford expensive licenses are the only ones that will see an end to prohibition. For the others, MPP is setting up a new prohibition."

The wording in the "what not to do" section in the MPP measure still includes the word "felony" as punishment for certain violations, which Clark sees as the continuous criminalization of weed and imprisonment of people over minor offenses for the profit of law enforcement agencies. In the Mindful Regulation initiative, any charges are never higher than a misdemeanor, with post-conviction relief.

Businesswise in MPP's world, to start, the number of dispensary licenses would be limited to around 150, with a big chunk going to already-established dispensaries, Clark points out. And with the way the retail structure is set up, businesses like smoke shops will get the short end of the stick, and would probably die off, he adds. (As they begin the signature-gathering campaign, Safer will work closely with smoke shop owners for that exact reason.)

Mindful Regulation asks for roughly 1,500 retail licenses from the get-go. "People like Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, always say that there will be a pot shop in every corner, and 1,500 sounds like a pot shop in every corner," Weisser says, adding that the higher numbers might scare off voters who are already on the fence about legalization.

MPP has always said it's about legalizing pot for once and for all. Other accommodations can be added on later. If certain weed Utopia proposals will scare off voters, then they're not taking that route.

About MPP's version of the proposed Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control, Clark argues it would destroy the medical marijuana program. Medical green should be left in the hands of the Arizona Department of Health Services, which is what Safer and Mindful Reg intend to do. MPP's version of the department would also create a task force to ensure all weed rules are followed, or another "law enforcement agency," as Clark describes it. Theirs would not do that, he says.

Also, "The new marijuana department, they'll be able to set up regulations as to how much marijuana will be on the market, and whether we will need more dispensaries or recreational shops. There is a good chance that the number will never be greater than 160, because the people who control those elections are dispensary businesses that will be handpicked by the governor," Clark says. "They want people going to jail. We focus more on consumer rights."

With taxation, MPP's is set at 15 percent, while Mindful Regulation wants 10 percent. But for both, revenue would go toward health and education.

The two have until July 2016 to gather the about 150,000 signatures to make the ballot.

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More by María Inés Taracena

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