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Arizona Cannabis Opponents Take Fight to Supreme Court

August 26, 2016
City of Phoenix downtown at dusk - close-up view of sky scrapers and warmly lit buildings.
PHOENIX (AP) — Opponents of an initiative that would legalize recreational cannabis in Arizona urged the Arizona Supreme Court Thursday to overturn a judge’s decision throwing out their legal challenge and instead block the measure from the November ballot.

The group called Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy includes two prominent county attorneys and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. They said in a court filing if Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry’s ruling is allowed to stand, “courts no longer have the power to prevent fraud on the electorate by reviewing an initiative petition on a substantive legal challenge filed by an initiative opponent.”

The opponents said initiative backers used illegal and unconstitutional “bait-and-switch tactics” and that the initiative violates Arizona’s statutes in three ways. They include a misleading 100 word summary that leaves out important provisions, an “incoherent” text and title that obscures the extent of its impact on other laws and a failure to provide a legal funding mechanism.

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 the three major reasons opponents laid out for keeping the initiative off the ballot.

Legalization backers told the high court that Gentry got it right and said the opponents’ case was politicized and filled with incorrect arguments.

“The appellants do not want for public platforms on which to pronounce their jeremiads against the decriminalization and regulation of cannabis, but this Court is not one of them,” their filing said. “The trial court’s decision should be affirmed in its entirety.”

Proposition 205 is on November’s general election ballot. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by Sept. 1 in order to meet a secretary of state deadline.

Under the measure, adults age 21 and older could carry up to one ounce of cannabis 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 cannabis in a way proponents say is similar to alcohol, with a 15 percent tax on all retail cannabis sales. Most of the new state revenue would go to Arizona public schools and education programs.