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Supporters preparing push for marijuana legalization initiative on 2020 ballot

Posted at 9:30 PM, Jul 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-03 01:27:44-04

PHOENIX — A new push to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use is firing up once again in Arizona. The movement comes after the last initiative, known as Prop 205, was defeated by a slim margin of less than one percent. Organizers say the landscape has improved and believe voters will now support the issue if it gets on the ballot again.

Pro-pot advocates say a lot has changed since 2016. In that time, at least nine other states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, others have passed laws to loosen prosecution laws for cannabis-related offenses and many others are now offering medical marijuana to cardholders.

Advocates behind the initiative say they learned a lot from Prop 205's failure and how successful efforts in other states have fared. ABC15 is told the attempt to put the measure on the 2020 ballot will be more organized with major financial support and better prepared to address the issues which made many Arizona voters hesitant to vote in favor of legalization in 2016.

Demitri Downing, a founder of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association, said supporters of legalization have already worked behind the scenes to reach out to groups that opposed the measure in 2016.

Increased exposure to medical marijuana as more states legalize it has shown people that concerns from when it was first gaining acceptance have not come to fruition, Downing said. In Arizona, he hopes that dispensaries, which have been operating for several years now, have softened the stances of some opponents.

"The sky has not fallen, everything is okay, no one is forcing or encouraging your kids to use marijuana," Downing said.

Concerned groups like the Center for Arizona Policy, a non-profit conservative lobbying organization, point to different studies that found legalizing marijuana has negatively impacted places like Colorado.

"We know in Colorado emergency room visits, hospitalizations, fatalities, they have all increased since recreational marijuana was legalized," said Cathi Herrod, the group's president.

A report released by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice depicts a mixed bag of results.

The most troubling statistics was "driving while high." While the report did detail an increase in calls to poison control involving children who were eight years of age and younger for exposure to edible marijuana products, it also indicated there was no increase in the number of children smoking pot or the quantity they consumed.

Dana Swan, with dispensary company Arizona Natural Selections, said she did not worry about any of her grandchildren using marijuana if it were to become legal in the state.

"You would never offer a 10-year-old a beer in my mind. I think people need to parent their children if I am being candid," said Swan.

Since youth use of marijuana has been a top concern cited by those who are against legalization, industry advocates say the language you will see in the initiative will include provisions on its marketing. There will be great caution taken, supporters say, to ensure marijuana products are not marketed toward children.

Harvest Health and Recreation CEO Steve White, who runs one of the largest marijuana businesses in the country, said organizers were putting a lot of thought into the wording of the initiative.

"We want to ensure that it remains true, that you cannot drive while impaired in Arizona. That is very important," White said. "Also in Arizona, we have decided that this initiative is going to be very friendly toward employers. Employers are going to dictate what their workplaces look like."

White says that will mean even should the legalization initiative pass, those showing up to work high could still face termination if it's included in company policy.

Stacey Pearson, with the public and government relations firm Strategies 360, elaborated that the citizen's initiative marijuana advocates are crafting would also be 'friendly' to property owners, and there would be a prohibition on using marijuana in public and open spaces.

Pearson said the groups have met with law enforcement representatives in Arizona and learned that being able to protect public spaces and areas from those who did not want to be exposed to marijuana was important to them.

Bringing jobs and money into the state is another key component of the initiative. While there has been no economic impact study done to predict how many jobs or how much money the state would gain, states like Colorado and Washington have brought in between $120-300 million in marijuana-related revenue, or roughly one percent of their state budgets.

The initiative requires more than 237,000 signatures by next year to make it on to the November 2020 ballot.

To learn more about this initiative visit here.