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AZ Marijuana Legalization
Battle Enters Twilight Zone

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Marijuana Legalization May Or May Not Be Coming To Arizona In The Near Future, But Both Opponents And Proponents Can’t Help But To Blunder Their Way Into The Debate

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By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine

Aug. 15, 2016 — The guests in the courtroom where attorneys on Friday battled over whether the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” initiative should appear on Arizona ballots in November likely wouldn’t have gasped if the ghost of Rod Serling appeared.

It was that surreal of an experience.

“You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead—your next stop, the Twilight Zone!” wrote Rod Serling.

On one side were those against legalizing marijuana, better known as the plaintiffs. Attorney Brett Johnson did the litigating, but the man who sat next to Arizona Republic and azcentral.com reporter Yvonne Sanchez is the real power player: Glenn Hamer, CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Hamer, a former head of the Arizona Republican Party, has been designated to lead to this effort by the forces against legalization, better known as nearly every prosecutor and deep-pocketed business owner in the state.

The other side — those who drafted and supported the initiative, and better known as the defendants — was litigated by attorney Roy Herrera. Herrera really works for medical marijuana dispensary owners who hope to maintain their hegemony over the legal marijuana trade in this state.

Last Thursday, Secretary of State Michele Reagan validated the signatures of Arizona residents — more than 177,000 of them — and has slated the initiative for the November ballot. Johnson and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry are trying to get Judge Jo Lynn Gentry to disqualify it. Their argument is the 100-word summary that described the initiative did not accurately describe what the initiative would establish.

And here is where Rod Serling’s ghost comes in. Johnson and others were arguing that they were defending signers of the petition to get the measure on the ballot. They claim because the summary did not mention that the initiative states that marijuana use by itself could be grounds for DUIs or as negative evidence in child custody cases, for example, many of the signers were duped.

“If you omit principal provisions (of the initiative) as decided by the court, it cannot be placed on the ballot,” Johnson argued.

He later called the tactic a classic example of the old, “bait and switch.”

Firstly, the initiative says DUIs and child custody matters can be based “solely” on marijuana possession or use. Nothing in the initiative says an impaired driver or a pothead who falls asleep on the couch while his baby drowns in a pool or walks into traffic is not responsible. On the contrary, it seems to be designed to stop prejudicing legal and other opinions on marijuana use.

Read full text of proposed initiative here.

To be sure, the initiative — which will be known as Prop. 205 if Judge Gentry or another judge does not disqualify it — is very complicated. It sets up a state department with enforcement officers and allows medical marijuana dispensaries first crack at legalized sales to adults 21 and older, among many other things.

Read full text of proposed initiative here.

Johnson was basically arguing that the 177,000 people that signed the petition were duped. The initiative, though, generally does what is says it will in the summary. Marijuana will be legal to buy and grow for anyone older than 21 and can be grown or sold by licensed businesses.

Has there been anyone who actually signed the petition who, after learning about some details they may not have read when they signed, were so taken aback that they felt duped?

No one knows, but surely Glenn Hamer and the folks at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry aren’t among them.

But in an effort to stop marijuana legalization, Johnson and those he represents are arguing that initiatives must be so simple that if they cannot be FULLY described in 100 words, they can’t qualify for a ballot.

“If they cannot put all of the substantial provisions (in the summary), they shouldn’t be filing,” Johnson said.

The Twilight Zone strikes again. Where else but in the Twilight Zone would an attorney argue that potential legislation should not be sufficiently complicated?

Further, why would it be a good thing for the residents of the state — except those that pay good money to influence the state legislature — to inherit an eroded initiative process? Likely because it forced Clean Elections, Medical Marijuana, term limits and more upon the legislature.

In all fairness, the details are where the proponents of the initiative also entered the Twilight Zone. They want marijuana legal, but only for sale by medical marijuana dispensary applicants at first. And, they get first crack at the new licenses. In perpetuity, the initiative calls for the number of authorized locations to be capped at 10 percent of series nine liquor licenses. Series 9 are “liquor stores” that allow to-go purchases. There are approximately 1,470 series 9 in Arizona. That means a maximum of 147 locations as of now.

Further into the Twilight, the initiative creates an, “investigative unit,” and “compliance officers,” that will enforce marijuana laws. It seems a bit heavy-handed to legalize something while at the same time creating a new group of “peace officers.”

For her part, Gentry seemed rightfully on the fence and that she was adjudicating without respect to her personal stance on the issue. While she did question Herrera’s statement that she had no authority to rule whether something was “fraudulent,” she also asked Johnson how he would suggest writing a summary, intimating that she feels initiatives can, at times, be so detailed as to render the 100-word summary requirement as an effort in style over substance.

Friday’s show in Gentry’s courtroom showed just how political this fight is. And, while admittedly Rod Serling did not make an appearance, the attempts to get the initiative thrown off the ballot is an effort, specifically on Johnson’s part to take, “A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.”

Surely he and his backers’ political stance against legalized marijuana is better fought in the court of public opinion.

Let it go to the ballot.

Spend time and capital addressing possible flaws in the legislation and let the best political stance win. If it passes, there’s plenty of time for attorneys.

It’s the American way.
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