Opponents of a voter initiative that would legalize the recreational use of cannabis in Arizona have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the measure. Supporters of the initiative, known as the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, submitted more than 420,000 signatures earlier this month, far more than the 238,000 needed to qualify the measure for the ballot in the November general election. 

If passed, the measure would legalize cannabis for use by adults and create a legal framework to regulate and tax commercial marijuana production and sales. The office of the Arizona Secretary of State is currently verifying the signatures to ensure that enough registered voters have signed to have the initiative included on this fall’s ballot.

Suit Contends Initiative Misleads Voters

But a lawsuit filed this week seeks to deny the voters of Arizona the right to decide on the legalization of cannabis by blocking the initiative from appearing on the ballot. The suit by the political action committee Arizonans for Health and Public Safety maintains that a 100-word summary of the initiative provided to those who signed the petitions and will be included in ballot materials does not accurately describe the measure.

“The proponent’s summary of the initiative is confusing and deceptive in numerous ways, beginning with the very definition of marijuana,” said John Shadegg, a former congressman and one of the attorneys who filed the suit.

The suit contends, among other allegations, that a portion of the summary that indicates the initiative would “protect employer and property owner rights” is misleading. The plaintiffs also take issue with the fact that the summary did not specify that the measure would legalize all forms of cannabis, including extracts and concentrates. 

“The summary misled signatories and will mislead voters who may support the legalization of ‘marijuana’ but not the more potent forms of ‘cannabis,’” Shadegg said.

The suit also maintains that the summary should have informed voters that the 16% tax rate imposed by the initiative on cannabis sales could not be raised without another ballot measure. The summary also should have included information about a provision of the initiative that makes possession of marijuana by someone younger than 21 a civil infraction instead of a felony, the suit contends.

“These omissions and statements misled voters who signed the petition about what the initiative would do,” said Lisa James, the chairwoman of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety.

Legalization Campaign Responds To Suit

But Stacy Pearson, a spokeswoman for the initiative campaign, said that the summary included enough information to be valid. In 2018, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the summary of an initiative must include its “principal provisions” but does not need to include every detail of the measure or even be impartial.

“There’s no way to incorporate a 15-page document or a 12-page document into a 100-word summary,” Pearson said.

Chad Campbell, the chairman of the Smart and Safe Arizona campaign, said that the suit is “ludicrous” and that he believes opponents of the measure don’t have enough public support to beat the initiative at the ballot box.

“This is a desperate grasp from a group that can’t afford to run a campaign,” he said. “So they’re trying to do anything they can to keep it off the ballot and prevent the voters of Arizona from having their say.”

Stopping the initiative with the pending lawsuit may be the last chance that prohibitionists have to prevent legal weed from coming to Arizona. A poll from OH Predictive Insights released this week shows that 62% of likely voters surveyed support the initiative.

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