Politics

Authorities Clear Arizona, Montana for Recreational Cannabis Vote

By Hilary Corrigan Aug 14, 2020
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REC initiatives have qualified for the ballot in Arizona and Montana, two states that insiders saw as bright spots after COVID-19 ended cannabis measures across the country.

At the beginning of 2020, legalization activists had envisioned numerous cannabis and drug reform initiatives coming before voters in November. But the pandemic halted many efforts, while the rest proceeded with new safety protocols. Various requests for online signature gathering and other relief largely failed.

Instead, some campaigns pressed on with single-use pens, masks, gloves and social distancing at the table set-ups that proponents staged at parks and outside grocery stores. They had to skip the canceled concerts, fairs and festivals they’d planned to hit.

Arizona

Arizona’s Secretary of State Katie Hobbs announced on Twitter this week that the state had certified the signatures for the REC measure there. The office validated about 255,080 signatures out of the approximately 420,000 that Smart and Safe Arizona had submitted. It needed about 238,000.

Arizona’s proposed REC measure would legalize the sale, possession and consumption of one ounce of marijuana and let the state create a regulatory framework for the industry. Proponents say it would generate $300M in annual tax revenue for community colleges, public safety, health programs and roads. It would also allow for expunging criminal records related to low-level pot convictions.

The measure has its share of opposition. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has come out against it. A recent lawsuit sought to keep it from the ballot over the language in the summary shared by signature collectors. A judge ruled against those plaintiffs last week, but they have appealed to the state’s supreme court.

“We are cleared by the Secretary of State,” said Stacy Pearson, spokesperson for Smart and Safe Arizona and a senior vice president at public affairs firm Strategies 360. The measure can officially be on the ballot pending the conclusion of the state supreme court case. 

“We’re not concerned,” she said, anticipating a decision next week.

Montana

New Approach Montana got confirmation from the Montana Secretary of State that its complementary initiatives qualified, the group said in a Thursday press release. The Montana campaign turned in a total of more than 130,000 signatures in June for the two measures.

One statutory initiative would legalize REC possession and use, setting up a regulatory framework for cultivation and sales. The complementary constitutional initiative would set the legal age for buying, consuming or possessing the drug at 21. This would match the approach Montana took in setting the legal age for alcohol.

“It’s awesome,” campaign spokesperson Pepper Petersen said of qualifying, especially considering the pandemic. “It scared the pants off of everybody.”

The campaign had planned to kick off its signature drive in mid-March, but briefly considered closing the effort down because of the pandemic. The proponents then shifted their protocols to continue trying to get people to sign.

“And they did. It was really Montanans that did this,” Petersen said.

Now the group is meeting with community, tribal, legislative, clergy leaders and others to discuss the benefits of legalization—including revenue—and build support. But from the start, proponents expected REC to pass if it made the ballot, Petersen said.

“That was the big fight,” he said of the signature drive. “Fighting COVID.”

In the press release, Petersen expressed optimism. “Our research has always shown that a majority of Montanans support legalization, and now voters will have the opportunity to enact that policy, which will create jobs and generate new revenue for our state,” he said. “It also means that law enforcement will stop wasting time and resources arresting adults for personal marijuana possession, and instead focus on real crime.”

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