At the start of the year, at least 10 states had plans to legalize either medical or recreational cannabis. But as the coronavirus took hold, lawmakers didn’t have enough time to discuss comprehensive marijuana reforms. This, coupled with the shutdown and social distancing measures, meant states like New York and Ohio had to postpone their legalization plans. In Arizona, however, activists were able to collect enough signatures to get marijuana legalization on the November ballot, but they are now facing another potential hurdle.
A group opposed to legal cannabis has filed a lawsuit arguing that the initiative used deceptive language when collecting signatures and is asking a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to declare the initiative invalid. The lawsuit was filed by Arizonians for Health and Public Safety. It claims that the sponsors of the initiative did not adequately describe the measure in a 100-word summary that was included in the petition that voters signed. The group argues that the summary should have included or at least expanded on a number of the details contained in the 16-page initiative.
The lawsuit argues that the summary should have made it clear to voters that legalizing marijuana under the proposed initiative would also legalize marijuana concentrate. “The proponent’s summary of the initiative is confusing and deceptive in numerous ways, beginning with the very definition of marijuana,” says former Congressman John Shadegg, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit.
Additionally, the lawsuit states that the summary’s claim that the initiative would “protect employer and property owner rights” is misleading as well. The group also argues that the summary should have explained how governments could not tax marijuana on top of the proposed 16% rate. The lawsuit also states that the 100-word summary should have better explained how Arizonians under the age of 21 caught in possession of marijuana won’t receive felony charges. The initiative would set the legal age for possession at 21 and make underage marijuana possession a civil penalty.
According to Lisa James, Chairwoman of political action committee Arizonians for Health and Public Safety, “these omissions and statements misled voters who signed the petition about what the initiative would do.” However, Stacy Pearson, spokeswoman for the initiative campaign Smart and Safe Arizona, states that the lawsuit is without merit and only underscores what opponents would have wanted the 100-word summary to say, not what it was required to say. In 2018, the state Supreme Court ruled that although the 100-word summary of an initiative must state the initiatives ‘primary provisions’, it does not need to be impartial and does not need to detail every provision of a ballot measure.
Additionally, “there’s no way to incorporate a 15-page document or a 12-page document into a 100-word summary,” says Pearson. “We’re not particularly concerned and certainly the court has, over the years, favored direct democracy.”
Analysts say cannabis industry players like VIVO Cannabis Inc. (TSX.V: VIVO) (OTCQX: VVCIF) will be interested in seeing how this legal battle pans out, as the outcome could reshape how ballot measures are drafted in future.
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