by: Paul James
The big question is will Arizona legalize recreational marijuana in the 2020 election? The answer is probably more complicated than you imagine. This isn’t the first time Arizona has attempted legalization. In 2016, Proposition 205 put forward a bill that would’ve allowed those 21 and over to possess and consume marijuana. Unfortunately, it was barely defeated. Still, this hasn’t stopped Arizonans from fighting for their cannabis rights. And a new initiative, proposed by the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, seeks to have Legislature put the measure up for the 2020 election. Throughout this article, we’re going to look into this initiative and what needs to happen to place it on the ballot. We’ll also be exploring why cannabis legalization lost in 2016 and what other states have done to help pass similar initiatives.
Proposition 205: Where’d It Go Wrong?
On November 8th, 2016, Arizona voters were given their first chance at cannabis legalization. Proposition 205 would’ve allowed for adults 21 and over to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to six plants for personal use. There were also plans to properly set up distribution, taxation, and dedicated funding to public schools.
The proposal barely lost with 51.32% of voters (1,300,344) denying the initiative while 48.68% of voters (1,233,323) approving. When speaking of the 2020 proposal, these numbers are vital for they show that, with the support of less than 100,000 new voters, cannabis can be legalized in Arizona. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol were the ones who made the original initiative, garnering $6.5 million in funds. Their opponents, a number of different industries including a synthetic painkiller company, received around $6.4 million. Between August 2016 and November 2016, public opinion was always too close to call. With most polls showing both support and opposition receiving 46%. However, the loss of cannabis legalization was seen as a victory for those fighting against it. So much so, Kevin Sabet of SAM Action stated those opposed to cannabis legalization in other states should use Arizona as a model. He claimed, “The overarching lesson was that if we could raise enough money early, we can win. Arizona was the only state where we were to to to with the ‘yes’ side, and it’s the only state we started early in.”
However, it’s safe to say these opponents of marijuana can’t keep up their fight for long. Public opinions are changing across the country. In Arizona, the medical cannabis industry has proven to be successful for both the state and those with a medical card. And with the 2020 election just months away, Arizonans are determined to receive their natural right to cannabis.
The 2020 Initiative
The Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce has recently introduced a bill that would allow already existing marijuana dispensaries to sell to anyone over the age of 21. The proposal is similar to that of Proposition 205 in that sense. However, this initiative seeks to do more than just legalize cannabis. It wants to set up regulations that’ll ultimately allow an undetermined future for the industry. Regulations such as:
● 100 more dispensaries than the current number of outlets that exist under legal medical cannabis.
● The establishment of 25 “craft” licenses which would allow smaller growers to plant and sell without being attached to big growers.
● Easier access to marijuana in more rural areas where there currently aren’t medical marijuana dispensaries.
● Regulation rights will be given to the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control. The AZ Cannabis Chamber of Commerce’s initiative is a direct response to the Arizona Dispensary Association (ADA), an organization that controls the majority of AZ’s medical dispensaries. They’ve made a similar proposal to Legislature known as the Smart and Safe initiative. The major difference with this proposal is it’s obvious ADA is trying to keep control over the market.
Under the Smart and Safe initiative, it would be much more difficult for other businesses to compete. This is because the proposal is meant to allow already established cannabis businesses to sell recreationally immediately upon legalization. “It will allow dispensaries that are already in good standing to start selling quickly,” notes Stay Pearson, a spokeswoman of the ADA campaign. Her statement does hold some weight. In states like California – where recreational use was legalized well after medical use – it took a long time for already-established dispensaries to start selling products. In turn, the black market continued to grow as everyone now had the legal right to possess marijuana. Another reason her statement holds weight is because it leans more towards public opinion. Truth be told, if cannabis was legalized in Arizona, most residents don’t want to see dispensaries popping up on every corner. Under the Smart and Safe initiative, this won’t happen. This fight for cannabis regulation is for good reason. The cannabis industry is expected to be worth $1 billion in Arizona alone. But does this fight take away from the ultimate purpose of legalization? To give every Arizona citizen their already-inherited natural right to consume cannabis.
A Predicament of a Predication
Even if Legislatures approve of either of these initiatives, it’s difficult to determine whether the Arizona public will agree to legalize marijuana. As mentioned, less than four years ago, public opinion was practically split right down the middle. With less than 100,000 votes determining cannabis shouldn’t be legalized. More recent polls have shown the shift towards legalization support may have already been made. In a poll from OH Predictive Insights, it was found that 52% of 2020 voters were in favor of marijuana legalization. While 41% opposed it and another 7% were undecided.
It’s impossible to determine how these polls measure up to an actual election. Back in 2016, similar polls were taken and had equally similar results. Obviously, they weren’t as accurate as Arizona cannabis users had wished. Still, there remains good chance legalization is around the corner. That is if the organizations involved in the initiatives take a look at what already-legalized states did in order to gain public support.
A State-by-State Analysis
Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana on November 6th, 2012, under the Colorado Amendment 64. At that time, it had been 12 years since cannabis was medically legalized and a lot had changed in terms of public opinion. Not only did many Coloradans began seeing the medical benefits cannabis had to offer but they also began to realize its distinct difference in comparison with dangerous legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. The vote to legalize cannabis was barely won with 53% in favor and 46% opposed. Most of the support came from metropolitan areas, such as Denver, whereas opposition was namely from rural locations.
This same pattern can be seen in other states, like California. Being the first state to medically legalize cannabis in 1996 and following that legalization with very loose rules in terms of who can obtain a medical card, it seemed as though Californians would be the first to legally take a toke. In fact, California has been fighting for legal cannabis since the 1970s when Proposition 19 was turned down by a 33-67% vote. Still, for that time, the amount of support really encouraged those who were behind the bill. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 2009 that California would see another chance at legal cannabis. The Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Educations Act was a first for the nation. It was approved by the Assembly of Public Safety Committee and reached the Assembly floor before being turned down. Californians had to wait until 2016, twenty years after medical cannabis was legalized, when Proposition 64 was passed. However, this didn’t come without its problems. Due to a lack of proper regulation, the state failed to sell cannabis commercially for an entire year. And even with commercial cannabis underway, a number of little details were looked over. For example, in July 2018, a new law had to be passed concerning what needed to be on labels of marijuana products. This law caused a number of dispensaries to throw away their supply and completely restock – costing many businesses both thousands in dollars and unnecessary labor efforts.
To some extent, Arizona has the ability to be a step ahead of the game when it comes to proper cannabis regulation. States like California and Colorado are perfect examples of where things can go wrong and what to do to make sure proper rules are set. Still, the unfortunate reality is solutions to one problem can also create new problems. As we discussed, the Arizona Dispensary Association is attempting to learn from California and offer a solution to make sure commercial cannabis is immediately available upon legalization. Their solution is to prohibit the number of dispensaries allowed to open and, therefore, leave the market to be determined by the professionals already in it. As also discussed, this can lead to newcomers not having their chance at the business which is why the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce has stepped in with their own initiative.
Legalizing cannabis on a state-to-state level is a complicated matter. Especially when you consider that federally, the plant is still viewed as a Schedule I substance. So, What’s Going to Happen?
At this point, it’s pretty inevitable cannabis is going to be legalized in Arizona. The only real question is how long is it going to take? There are two major factors that’ll ultimately decide this. The first – and most important – is public opinion. If enough Arizonans want legal cannabis, cannabis will be legalized. As we saw with other states, it took some time for public opinion to change since medical legalization. With Arizona approaching that ten-year mark, the tides are turning for the better. The 2010s were a great decade for cannabis advocates. Not only with state by-state marijuana legalization but also federal legalization of hemp and CBD. These two influences are playing a major role in public opinion. And as long as things keep rolling the way they have been, it’s inevitable the majority will favor legal marijuana.
The second factor is who will be the one to get it legalized. As mentioned, the Arizona Dispensary Association and the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce are currently fighting for your natural rights. Though their initiatives are different in scope, they offer the same thing to the average Arizona citizen; legal cannabis. The battle now seems to be less about legalization and more about the market. It’s too early to be certain as to whether or not 2020 will be the year Arizona sees itself in a celebrated cloud of marijuana smoke. But even if 2020 isn’t the year, we can promise that that celebrated cloud is not too far over the horizon.