AZ: Judge To Hear Case On Recreational Pot

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Opponents and proponents of letting Arizona voters decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana get their chances to convince a judge on Friday.

A 3-hour hearing is scheduled before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry that day.

Backers of the initiative get to respond to charges leveled by foes, who claim that the wording of the measure is flawed and the question can’t be placed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Attorney Brett Johnson, who represents challengers, contends the proposal is basically a fraud on voters.

The most visible challengers are Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Other opponents include state Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, and Moses Sanchez, a Tempe Union High School District governing board member.

The push to get the question before voters is led by a group named the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol.

The plaintiffs, who filed the lawsuit, claim that supporters misled people who signed the petitions to get the question on the ballot by saying the measure would regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Before the issue hits the ballot, the required number of qualified signatures must still be verified by the secretary of state. Backers submitted petitions with 258,699 signatures. The required number of signatures to get on the ballot is 150,642.

John Balitis, a partner with the Phoenix law firm Fennemore Craig, is an interested observer in the case. He predicts that no matter how Judge Gentry rules, the case will end up before the Arizona Supreme Court.

Part of the argument to legalize pot usually refers to the ability to collect taxes which can benefit various entities. Proponents also say that legalizing pot means less money going to drug cartels, Balitis said.

“For the proponents, in their view, medical marijuana hasn’t been bad, so they want to advance” its use, he said. “Those arguments have largely been successful” in other states.

Currently in Arizona, marijuana is legal for people with certain medical conditions who have a doctor’s recommendation and state-issued card. The most recent figures from the Arizona Department of Health Services show 97,938 qualifying patients, with another 853 certified as caregivers who can grow or obtain marijuana for someone else.

There are about 4.8 million Arizonans who could qualify to purchase pot for recreational use if the measure passes.

Johnson, the plaintiffs’ attorney, argues that there are multiple differences between how Arizona law treats people who legally drink alcohol and people who would be able to use marijuana legally.

For example, he pointed to language which says an employer who wants to fire a worker who is impaired by marijuana would have to show a worker was “performing any task while impaired by marijuana or a marijuana product that would constitute negligence or professional malpractice.’’

“That is not like alcohol,’’ Johnson said.

But Kory Langhofer, who represents initiative backers, said there is nothing wrong or fraudulent about selling the initiative to voters as a system of regulation that parallels alcohol regulation. He said the similarities are far greater than any differences.

“It’s legal with licenses and taxes and restrictions on where and when you can sell it, how you use it,’’ he said. That’s far more understandable and informative to voters than simply saying the proposal would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, Langhofer said.

Johnson contends the measure does not pass legal muster because the description put on the initiative petitions, legally limited to 100 words, does not adequately describe what the measure does.

Langhofer said what Johnson contends is necessary would be impossible, given the actual petition runs about 30 pages.

“You literally can’t write a 30-page law in 100 words,” he said. And Langhofer said that’s not a reason to deny giving voters the last word.

Montgomery, a foe of the measure and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, conceded that Arizona law allows initiative organizers just 100 words for a summary. And Arizona courts have ruled that not every single provision of a measure needs to be detailed in those 100 words.

Montgomery said he still believes this description is so flawed as to preclude it from going to voters.

“If your summary can’t fairly encompass everything you’ve thrown into an initiative, it’s probably your first indication that your initiative is not going to meet constitutional and statutory muster,” he said.

The lawsuit drew an angry reaction from initiative organizers.

“Our opponents have demonstrated that they are willing to do and say just about anything to maintain the failed policy of marijuana prohibition,’’ said campaign chairman J.P. Holyoak in a prepared statement. “This lawsuit is simply a desperate attempt to deprive Arizona voters of the right to vote on this ballot question.’’

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Judge To Hear Case On Recreational Pot
Author: Howard Fischer and Shelley Ridenour
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Website: East Valley Tribune