Vote to legalize marijuana could be back in 2018

Members of a group called Safer Arizona 2018 hope to remove all criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana.

Courier file photo

Members of a group called Safer Arizona 2018 hope to remove all criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana.

PHOENIX - Voters may get another chance next year to legalize marijuana use by adults.

Members of a group called Safer Arizona 2018 filed the paperwork Thursday, Feb. 16, with the Secretary of State’s office to begin collecting signatures to put the issue on the ballot. They need 150,642 valid signatures by July 5, 2018, to qualify.

Proposition 205, which proposed a similar change last year, failed by a narrow margin. But David Wisniewski, this group’s executive director, said there are some significant differences that will make this proposal more acceptable.

The big one is it would remove all criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana. That compares with Prop 205, which limited possession to an ounce and preserved other laws about illegal sales to those younger than 21.

“This is the real deal,” he said.

“This is actually repealing prohibition so there are no criminal penalties associated with cannabis,” Wisniewski said. “And things left over, like selling to a minor or selling without a license, we hit those with fines.”

Potentially more significant, this measure would allow any licensed retailer to sell the drug. That means any grocery store, tobacco shop or convenience store.

And the prohibition against being located near schools and churches that exists for liquor stores and bars - and was part of Prop 205 - is not part of this measure.

Proposition 205, by contrast, also limited sales to a set number of state-licensed dispensaries with some limits on where they could be located. And it gave first preference to those already operating medical marijuana shops, a restriction that caused some criticism even by supporters of legalized marijuana.

There’s one other big difference: Wisniewski said he believes he can get the required signatures with an all-volunteer effort, something that has not been done in decades.

“We’re living in a different time,” he said.

“With social media we’re reaching literally hundreds of thousands of people a week,” Wisniewski said. “We have hundreds and hundreds of people begging to be a part of our cannabis campaign.”

He conceded, though, that if he gets the necessary signatures it will take money to conduct an actual campaign.

If Prop 205 is any indication, opponents of legalization will have plenty of cash. They spent close to $6.2 million, including close to $1.5 million from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry alone.

It also is virtually certain to get opposition from prosecutors who helped organize the campaign against Proposition 205.