On the surface, Arizona's rejection of Proposition 205, the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, seemed like a clear victory for the various anti-legalization organizations throughout the state. However, a look at the opposition and the contents of the proposition itself show a more complex political situation.
Arizona passed Prop 200 and legalized marijuana for medical use in 1996 — before Colorado did. Even so, Arizona was the only state out of nine with marijuana questions on the ballot to reject a marijuana measure this round. Over one million voters, constituting 52 percent of the result, voted against Prop 205. This despite the fact that Arizona has over 130 medical dispensaries in operation and Prop 205 was polling at 50 percent in October. So what happened?
According to David Wisniewski of Safer Arizona, a pro-legalization group, 205 was flawed, and he voted against it. “In my opinion, what happened here was similar to what happened in Ohio a few years ago. This was not written for real decriminalization; it still has prohibition in the background, specifically centered around growing certain amounts,” Wisniewski says. Prop 205 "still maintains predatory provisions. It is all about making money for dispensaries.”
Arizonans for Mindful Regulation offers a similar claim, that Prop 205 represents "fake" legalization because it features less-permissive rules than the AZFMR plan proposes regarding possession crimes.
In a blog post,
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol was an outspoken supporter of Prop 205, and according to its mission page “represents a coalition of citizens, community leaders, businesses, and organizations that recognize marijuana prohibition has been just as big of a failure as alcohol prohibition." The group notes that Prop 205 would have enacted a 15 percent excise tax on retail marijuana sales, which would have been used to fund the implementation and enforcement of regulations.
The pro-205 campaign was also backed by the national Marijuana Policy Project, a sponsor of the bill, as well as local dispensaries, which was the main issue with other pro-legalization advocates who were apprehensive about Prop 205.
On the other hand, staunch anti-marijuana organizations see the entire decriminalization effort as negative.
Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy celebrated a victory last week, stating,“We are beyond pleased with the results. The defeat of Proposition 205 helps to secure a safe and prosperous future for Arizona for many years to come. The true winners of this victory are the children and grandchildren in our state. This initiative was bankrolled by marijuana special interests who sought to profit from its passage. Its defeat shows that Arizonans will not risk letting out-of-state interests buy the ballot box."
According to the organization's website, Prop 205 would have permitted sales of marijuana edibles near preschools and youth clubs such as Boys & Girls Clubs. The organization also says that Prop 205 would have expanded drug use, permitting current medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana from the same storefront.
The group also calls "the Colorado experiment" with legalization "a failure."
While polls demonstrate that a majority of residents support legalization of marijuana in Arizona, advocates are determined to achieve their goal with a clearer measure on the 2018 ballot. AZFMR and Safer Arizona are now sponsoring Marijuana Consumers Against FAKE Marijuana Legalization and the 2018 Campaign to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana.
"We are drafting a new proposal to replace 205 and offer total decriminalization. This empowers patients even further,” Wisniewski says. “A new bill will be up and offers legal ownership of 99 plants. We are looking to gain upwards of 300,000 supporters. Volunteers are welcome."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.