A newly launched initiative campaign aims to have Arizona voters asked in 2014 whether the state should legalize marijuana use beyond its current medical program.
Growing, possessing and using marijuana would be legal for adults regardless of medical need if the proposed initiative measure filed Tuesday with the Secretary of State's Office reaches the ballot and is approved by voters.
Organizers behind the initiative said the proposal is based on revised versions of ballot measures approved by Colorado and Washington state voters in 2012.
"The intent of the initiative is to legalize marijuana in Arizona and to treat it as we treat alcohol," said Dennis Bohlke, a Phoenix computer engineer who is the treasurer of the group, Safer Arizona.
Supporters must collect 259,213 valid signatures from registered voters by July 3, 2014 to get the measure on the November 2014 ballot.
Organizers say the initiative campaign will be a grassroots effort relying on volunteers to collect signatures.
Bohlke acknowledged the lack of major funding will be a handicap.
He said it was the thought of young people getting arrested and having a criminal record because of the drug that got the ball rolling.
"To me there was just no other way to get this issue solved," he said. "I wanted to light a fire under the Legislature."
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who has challenged the legality of state's medical marijuana program, said legalizing marijuana "would run afoul of the same supremacy clause issues that Arizona's medical-marijuana program faces." The constitutional clause says that when state and federal laws are at odds, federal law prevails. Marijuana use is illegal under federal law.
A state court judge has rejected that argument, but the ruling is being appealed.
Arizona voters approved the use of medicinal marijuana in 2010 for conditions such as chronic pain and cancer. More than 35,000 Arizonans participate in the program, which is overseen by the Department of Health Services.
Opponents are already voicing their concerns.
"We knew all along that medicinal was baby steps to full legalization, which now the pro drug lobby has come out and announced their efforts to do so," said Jessica Smith with Keep AZ Drug-free.
She believes the state is dealing with enough problems when it comes to medical marijuana.
"I don't even know how essentially it can even make it to the ballot. We have a federal law that preempts what we're trying to do as a state. So we have some serious challenges here, we have to take a look at the issues that are plaguing the other states," Smith said.
But Bohlke thinks he can get enough signatures to let voters decide.
"I'm feeling quite confident that we'll be able to get the 259,213 signatures," he said.