Pubdate: Sun, 05 Jan 2014
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2014 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez


They're Looking to Colo. As Model for Legalization Efforts in Arizona

Supporters of an effort to legalize marijuana in Arizona this year 
see their chances fading, an organizer told The Arizona last week, 
even as thousands of Colorado residents lined up to buy pot from the 
nation's first recreational-marijuana shops.

Many Arizona marijuana advocates hope to replicate Colorado's model 
of regulated pot for recreational use, but it likely won't happen in 
2014 as organizers had hoped. The real effort, some say, will come in 
2016, when an influential group is expected to substantially fund an 

Marijuana is legal for about 40,000 Arizonans, but only for medicinal 
purposes. Patients must get recommendations from a physician and 
obtain a card from state health officials under the Arizona Medical 
Marijuana Act approved by voters in 2010.

If the Safer Arizona initiative were to make it on the November 
ballot, it would ask voters to amend the state Constitution to allow 
people 18 and older "to consume or possess limited amounts" of 
marijuana for recreational use - not solely for medicinal purposes.

But supporters have gathered just 10,000 of the 259,213 valid 
signatures needed by July 3 to qualify for the ballot. While 
marijuana-advocacy groups and some student organizations support the 
effort, it has no major financial backing to fund signature gathering.

"We still are behind schedule on getting petition signatures," said 
Dennis Bohlke, a north Phoenix resident who is leading the 
initiative, adding that supporters are "not ready to throw in the towel yet."

"We've got high hopes," he said, the day before hitting a Phoenix 
library to gather signatures. "But I don't want to sound 
unrealistic," suggesting the group may fail to qualify for the ballot.

Bohlke and others said the next best chance to push to legalize 
recreational marijuana in Arizona is in 2016.

By then, they say, Colorado's program will be established enough to 
identify which portions of the program might work in Arizona, and 
which might not. That, said one veteran public-opinion pollster, 
could sway voters one way or another based on information from 
"people who are actually experiencing something" on the controversial issue.

"Colorado ... could move things in a positive or negative direction 
rather quickly because it is a complete change in the environment and 
there's an actual instance of legalization in a neighboring state 
that's getting a lot of publicity," pollster Mike O'Neil said.

O'Neil pointed out that public support for legalizing marijuana is at 
an all-time high. One national survey of 1,501 people last year by 
the Pew Research Center found 52 percent said marijuana should be 
legal, while 45 percent said it should not. Pew said support for 
legalizing pot has risen 11 percentage points since 2010.

"It's clear ... that on the national level, there is a movement in 
this direction," O'Neil said.

But without significant funding to gather enough signatures to make 
the ballot, he said, Safer Arizona's effort "sounds pretty doubtful."

"The bar is set pretty high unless you've got a lot of money to get 
signatures," he said. "If you don't, you have to have something that 
has a groundswell of support."

Come back in a few years, he said, "and you might get a different result."

That's what the Marijuana Policy Project is banking on. The 
Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for marijuana 
legalization and regulation intends to pursue full legalization in 
Arizona through a voter initiative in 2016 and in several other 
states over the next two election cycles.

The Arizona initiative effort will be modeled on Colorado's program, 
approved by voters in 2012. For about a year, Colorado has allowed 
adults 21 and older to use and possess up to an ounce of pot; 
marijuana shops were allowed to open last Wednesday.

Marijuana Policy Project Communications Director Mason Tvert, who ran 
Colorado's legalization initiative, said significant funding is 
needed to pay for signature gathering to qualify for a ballot. And, 
he said, history has shown that marijuana-legalization efforts are 
more successful during higher-turnout presidential elections - not 
midterm elections.

"That's why we're doing it in 2016," he said. "It's a 
presidential-election year, and traditionally, the more people who 
vote, the more support we see for ending marijuana prohibition."

Tvert said supporters of an Arizona initiative will closely watch 
Colorado over the next two years to see how the program is handled.

"It will ultimately be up to the Legislature or the voters to decide 
what system will be best," he said. "It's critical we write a strong 
initiative, and we intend to do that the same way we did in Colorado."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom