Lawsuit: Keep Arizona pot initiative off ballot

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FILE - This Monday, May 20, 2019, file photo, shows a marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis grow in Gardena, Calif. Proponents of legalizing recreational marijuana in Arizona have turned in more than the necessary signatures to get on this year's ballot, overcoming a pandemic to get in front of voters in November. The organizers behind the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, which would legalize recreational marijuana use for those 21 and over, said they began gathering signatures last September. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

 A group opposed to legalized marijuana announced a lawsuit Tuesday against an initiative that would allow adults in Arizona to possess up to an ounce of pot.

The lawsuit challenges the 100-word summary of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, saying it misleads voters about key provisions of the initiative. Voters see the summary when they sign petitions to qualify an initiative for the ballot.

Now, all four initiatives whose backers filed enough signatures to make the November ballot face court challenges. Initiatives boosting taxes on high-earning Arizonans to fund education, forbidding surprise medical billing, and overhauling the state’s criminal sentencing rules face similar challenges to the summary, and two of the four lawsuits challenge signatures as well.

The challenge to the marijuana legalization initiative claims the summary of the proposal failed to tell voters who signed petitions that it would also cover hashish and other more potent forms of marijuana, changes state law on driving under the influence and doesn’t specifically say that a 16% tax on marijuana sales can’t be increased by the Legislature.

The lawsuit was filed by several voters belonging to a group called Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, a political committee opposed to legalizing marijuana. Its primary funding has come from the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative group that backs traditional families and promotes religious freedom and anti-abortion legislation. The group’s chair, Lisa James, said in a statement that the flaws misled voters.

“It is virtually impossible to fix or update it after the fact when there are unintended consequences, making it imperative that voters be fully apprised,” James said in a statement.

The national law firm Polsinelli is representing the group, with former Arizona Rep. John Shadegg as one of the lead attorneys. He called the summary “clearly deceptive.”

“The proponent’s summary of the initiative is confusing and deceptive in numerous ways, beginning with the very definition of marijuana,” Shadegg said in a statement.

Chad Campbell, chair of the group backing the measure, called the lawsuit “frivolous and ridiculous.”

“There’s no legal or technical merit to it – their arguments are campaign arguments,” Campbell said. “This is just a desperate attempt by very small group of people funded by the Center for Arizona Policy to try to keep the voters of Arizona from having their say in the matter.”

Two of the initiatives, the ones banning surprise billing and increasing education funding, also face challenges to their qualifying signatures. Backers of all four turned in far in excess of the required number of signatures to make the ballot. The Secretary of State is reviewing the petition sheets and will send a sample to county recorders for verification before certifying that they have enough to make the ballot.

The lawsuits will be heard in the coming weeks under expedited scheduling orders.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.