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Recreational marijuana promises to be a major issue in Arizona in 2020

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Lawmakers and voters alike will have pot on their minds in 2020 as the Arizona legislative session begins this week with two recreational marijuana ballot measures and six different medical marijuana bills, which could potentially be on the upcoming November ballot.

First up we have the Arizona Dispensary Association's Smart and Safe Act, which currently has more than 160,000 of the 237,645 signatures needed to be on the 2020 ballot, according to Stacy Pearson, senior vice president of Strategies 360, a public relations firm handling the promotion and signature gathering of the Smart and Safe Act. The firm was instrumental in getting recreational use marijuana approved in Alaska in 2014.

"We're in great shape with six months left to collect," Pearson said. "The reaction on the street is very positive and the turn-away rate is low across the state."

The turn-away rate is the rate of people who are registered voters but refuse to sign the ballot measure.

Next we have the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce's referendum that is hoping to pass through the state legislature this session and be placed on the 2020 ballot for voter consideration. The group had originally tried to get a second initiative on the ballot through signatures, but pivoted to go the referendum route.

"We got some work to do there and we're still trying to garner support," said Mason Cave, spokesperson for the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

The reason ACCC believes there should be another ballot measure in addition to Smart and Safe act is about transparency and openness, according to Cave.

"By going the referendum route we're going to take in a lot of the comments and criticisms in regards to our language and we think that's healthy." Cave said "Anyone can write an initiative themselves, get enough signatures and get it on the ballot, but it's not a very open process."

Cave also said plenty of state legislators are showing support but no one has officially endorsed the referendum, as of yet. But he says they'll probably start seeing more support as the new legislative session begins.

But Pearson remained skeptical that lawmakers—especially Republican lawmakers—would be voting in favor of a ballot proposition to legalize recreational marijuana use.

"There is no well of Republican leadership, as far as I understand, that have scheduled to hear this bill, in this session, during an election year when the Republicans are worried about losing," Pearson said with a chuckle. "But Mason Cave has certainly done a good job with publicity."

Cave's ACCC proposal offers new licenses to open new dispensaries (Smart and Safe doesn't), would be governed by the Arizona Board for Liquor Control (Smart and Safe prefers Arizona Department of Public Health), would have a lower sales tax compared to Smart and Safe, and would continue to require consumer testing on all marijuana products, as a part of SB1494 which passed last year.

"In our referendum you'll see that we pointed back to that testing legislation because we think that it's the appropriate way to handle consumer safety moving forward," Cave said. "(Smart and Safe) could have pointed back to that legislation but they did not."

Pearson disagrees with Cave's assessment as to why the Smart and Safe doesn't include language about product testing. She says that if Smart and Safe were to pass in November, it would be voter-protected, which means any changes would require a three-fourths majority vote in the Legislature. Locking in 2020 testing requirements might not

make much sense in future.

"He is right that (the Smart and Safe Act) is not specific, but that is by design," Pearson said. "We would defer rule making to the department of health services and to the Legislature so it can be changed as technology advances."

In addition to the two ballot measures, lawmakers have already sponsored (as of press time) a half-dozen different marijuana-related bills to be considered in Arizona's 2020 legislative session:

• HB 2178 aims to expunge and erase marijuana possession arrests.

• HB 2049 would add Opioid Use Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder to Arizona's qualifying conditions for medical marijuana patients.

• HB 2173 would ban electronic smoking devices (vaporizers) from indoor use under the Smoke Free Act.

• SB 1015 bans pesticides from being used to cultivate marijuana in Arizona.

• SB 1016 deals with state transaction privilege tax and medical marijuana sales.

• SB 1017 which would ban information sharing from medical marijuana dispensaries.

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