Judge throws out challenge to legal marijuana initiative in Arizona

Posted at 8:25 AM, Aug 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-19 20:20:42-04

A judge on Friday threw out a legal challenge to an initiative that will ask voters in November to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona.

The ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry dismissing the challenge is expected to be appealed by opponents of the measure directly to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Gentry ruled that opponents of Proposition 205 can't challenge the initiative because of changes to the law in 2015 limiting such lawsuits. She said the Legislature, "wittingly or not," eliminated a part of the law allowing any citizen to challenge the legality of initiative petitions.

In case that interpretation is overturned by the Supreme Court, Gentry went on to reject all of the reasons opponents laid out for keeping the initiative off the ballot.

They had asked her to bar it from the ballot because the short description voters saw when signing petitions left off many major provisions. For instance, the 100-word legal description did not include details about changes to DUI laws, child custody issues, employment law and many others.

Gentry said in her ruling that there was "no ability to prepare a summary that would comply with the 100-word limit and with their objections."

A handful of those in opposition argued that the petition was misleading and a fraud to voters. But, initiative supporters said, this was just a plot for their own ideologies. 

"It's trying to deny people the right to vote on an issue," said J.P. Holyoak, Chairman for the campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "That's wrong." 

A group of opponents called Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy that includes two prominent county attorneys and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, also argued that the act failed to identify a revenue source to set up a new regulatory agency the act envisions, and that the title of the law was misleading.

Gentry rejected those arguments as well.

Under the measure, adults age 21 and older could carry up to one ounce of marijuana and consume it privately. Adults could also cultivate up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed space and possess the marijuana produced by the plants. No more than a dozen plants would be allowed in a single residence.

The system would regulate pot in a way proponents say is similar to alcohol, with a 15 percent tax on all retail marijuana sales. Most of the new state revenue would go to Arizona public schools and education programs.

The group backing the initiative, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, issued a statement calling on Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to accept the court's ruling and "focus on fighting serious crimes instead of citizen initiatives."

"This was a frivolous and politically motivated lawsuit," campaign Chairman J.P. Holyoak said. "If these county prosecutors dislike this ballot measure, they should take their arguments to the voters, not to our overburdened court system. We hope they will accept the court's ruling and return to waging legal battles against dangerous criminals rather than citizen initiatives."

Opponents vowed to continue fighting the measure.

"We would anticipate this going to appeal, and it is our hope that the courts look favorably on our challenge and that this ill-considered measure will not be sent to Arizona voters," said Garrick Taylor, the Chamber's spokesman. "It is potentially extremely damaging to Arizona's economy and we will continue to oppose it vigorously.

Valley resident J.P. Holyoak compares the current state of marijuana to alcohol prohibition.

"It simply created a criminal black market. That's how we had the Al Capone's of the world and the original gangster," Holyoak said.

But, it has been more than 80 years after that decision. Voters in this generation will have just a few months from now to decide about legalizing recreational pot. 

Holyoak is with the campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. ABC15 asked him to show us what our state would look like if that people were to vote YES on Prop 205 in November.

"We have a regulatory board that takes care of the licensing; administers collection of taxes," Holyoak explained. "Just make sure that the program is running by the rules."

Plus, we asked - where would the money go?

"There is a 15% surcharge," Holyoak said. "80% goes directly to our education system."

But, those opposed are calling the campaign into question. 

"The biggest problem that we see and that we are concerned mostly about has to do with effects on safety," said Seth Leibsohn with Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy. 

The Arizona Secretary of State has certified the measure for the November general election ballot after verifying backers had collected much more than the necessary 150,642 valid signatures.

If you would like read the initiative, click here.