Arizona Rising: Can The U.S. Break The Anti-Cannabis Cycle?

With the November election looming, initiatives for cannabis law reform are rising in numbers and determination. However, anti-cannabis advocates continue to seize every opportunity to stop legalisation from being decided upon by the people. Isn't it time to break the cycle?

Another lawsuit was filed in the Maricopa County Superior Court, Arizona last month to stop the Smart & Safe initiative from reaching the November general election ballot.

The lawsuit, filed by chairwoman of Arizonians for Health and Public Safety, Lisa James, along with "eight concerned Arizona voters" challenged the factual legitimacy of the 100-word summary used to prompt potential voters to sign the initiative.

The lawsuit argued that the 100-word summary was "deceptive" and non-compliant to the "Arizona Constitution". According to the press release, the summary gave misleading information regarding the "definition of marijuana" and raised concerns regarding the 16% sales tax that would be implemented.

If it were to be successful, the lawsuit would have taken away the choice for voters to legalise cannabis for adult-use completely.

In this case, the Maricopa County Superior Court Judge, James Smith, ruled against the lawsuit. Judge Smith went on to say that the summary was not misleading or confusing to voters.

In the official 15-page ruling, Smith remarked that because the full initiative is provided with the petition, the summary would not be required to include every detail. "At 100 words, the summary also cannot include everything," Smith stated. In turn, the summary provided enough information for voters to know what they were signing for.

"This initiative is plain: It wants to legalize recreational marijuana," Smith wrote.

As it stands, this is yet another attempt from anti-cannabis advocates grasping at straws to prevent the inevitable.

This begs the question: When will the fighting stop?

Arizona Legalisation: Round 2

This is not the first time Arizona has faced the scorn of anti-cannabis advocates. Recreational cannabis in the Grand Canyon state has been illegal since 1931, and the punishment for its possession is severe. Possession for up to 2 pounds (0.9 kg) can hit you with a hefty $150,000 fine, a felony charge, and up to two years in prison. It's far from ideal.

In November 2016, proposition 205 was put to a vote to legalise adult-use for adults over 21 years. The bill was voted against by a frustrating figure of 51%. Since then, however, votes in favour have increased. The current Smart & Safe initiative, for example, filed 420,000 signatures for legalisation. If the initiative is successful, Arizona will be the 12th state to legalise cannabis.

This time, facts prevailed and with the backdrop of economic downturn spurred by a global pandemic, we can thank our lucky stars.Robert Hoban – Cannabis Attorney

According to Forbes contributor and cannabis attorney, Robert Hoban, this latest lawsuit is just another chapter in the anti-cannabis fear-inducing narrative.

Hoban states that the opposition for proposition 205 was led by former politicians, using "fear and falsehood" to advocate the disastrous impact that legalisation would have on Arizona.

This "fear and falsehood" was used to convince voters that legalisation would have a detrimental impact on workplace productivity while branding Colorado's state post-legalisation as "horrible".

Hoban goes on to makes a remarkable point: according to the evidence at the time, Colorado's economy was booming, and legalisation had contributed to a decrease of unemployment and increased tourism. Despite this, however, the fearful narrative of the potential harm of legalisation was successful.

Interestingly (however, not surprisingly), the 2016 anti-legalisation campaign was also partly funded by Insys Therapeutics, an opioid manufacturer. Need we say more?

Medicinal cannabis has also had its own battles. An initiative was filed and voted against in 1996. It was finally approved in 2010 under proposition 203.

Will Arizona Rise?

If all goes well, then yes. However, we all know it's never as simple as that. The overruling of the lawsuit makes a simple, yet firm point: let the voters vote.

For years, the same narrative has been spun and anti-cannabis advocates have used the same tactics to instil fear in potential voters. This fact has not changed since the days of Anslinger: the founding father of the War on Drugs. This lawsuit was just another attempt to grasp at the last remaining straws to prevent the people from voting on the inevitable.

This isn't surprising though, public perception is increasing in its favour – and it's not just the U.S. The global framework is inches from reform: the NZ referendum, WHO recommending cannabis re-scheduling, and the COVID-19 pandemic are all signs pointing to legalisation. At the end of the day, you can't blame them for trying.

On a global scale, we are the tail-end of the War on Drugs. The stigma is breaking and there is little that can be done to stop it. Cannabis sales and tax revenue are reaching record-breaking numbers – both Colorado and Illinois are prime examples of this. Cannabis legalisation and its revenue is essential (COVID-19 pun intended) during an economic downturn. The industry is on an upward trajectory of both sales and support.

It's clear to see: change is happening and those who a profiting from an out-dated system don't like it. Cannabis is not the demon; education is clearly needed to remove its lingering stigma. This can't happen, however, unless it's legalised.

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Taylor Ridewood
Taylor Ridewood

Taylor is a Sydney-based writer with a background in psychology and professional writing. She has a keen interest in the benefits of medicinal cannabis and enjoys researching the multi-faceted effects of cannabis on the body and mind.

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