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Why Arizona's Legalization Initiative Was The Only One That Failed Nationwide

Two things need to happen in the wake of Arizona’s failure to become the 9th state to legalize recreational marijuana on Nov. 8, according to the state director of Arizona NORML.

“We need to have the campaign, whatever campaign it is, address the fact that there’s 40 percent of the population that does not live in the Phoenix Metro area and those people need to be part of the picture," said Mikel Weisser. 

"And we need to come up with some agreement on what we want to do, because we can’t make progress when we’re fighting against each other."

It’s been just under two weeks since Proposition 205 – or the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona – was defeated by a narrow margin of 80,000 votes, making it the only state legalization initiative to fail in the U.S. election. Among those close to the cause, there's not much doubt as to why.   

While Weisser freely admits that the campaigners for 205 – a proposal he helped write – failed to perform adequate outreach to Arizona’s rural regions ahead of the election, he largely credits the loss to several prominent adversaries of the campaign.

Pro-legalization groups were adversaries

Groups like Arizonans for Mindful Regulation (AZFMR), for example, threw their efforts into a “vote no” campaign against 205 after failing to garner enough signatures for their own ballot initiative, which offered licenses for up to 1,500 retail stores across the state (in lieu of the 150 or so offered by 205) and had no possession limits for cannabis grown in the home.

Despite being backed by the national Marijuana Policy Project and local dispensaries, 205 was seen by groups like AZFMR as too restrictive. If passed, 205 would’ve allowed adults to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, and residents would have been allowed to grow up to six plants at home.

“We’re far apart,” said Weisser of 205 and AZFMR’s priorities when it comes to legalization.

“They’re not appealing to the mainstream and they’ve burned all their allies in the marijuana community… they definitely need to change their direction.”

Weisser said a rift between Arizona’s cannabis advocates based on what legalization should look like has in fact been growing since the 2010 election, when the state passed its medical marijuana program. Now, with what he believes to be the next shot at recreational legalization only coming in 2020, it’s time to mend fences.

“The desires from the various communities within marijuana reform are pretty widespread… We need to agree to work together for common sense choices,” said Weisser.

“There are people who want to establish a tax and regulate system, and there are people who want to have marijuana like tomatoes and… right now, we’re still spitting and shouting at each other.”

But it wasn’t all for nothing, Weisser asserts. He believes the campaign for 205 generated “a lot of great activists” who are starting to mobilize in their efforts to “build a bigger, better NORML.” Weisser added that NORML has allies in the state legislature to which they plan to advocate cannabis decriminalization in coming months.

In other words, he has no plans of throwing in the towel.

“I’m a human being, and I put a lot of time and energy into this [campaign], so of course I had to… lick the wounds and rebuild. But the project is still here. The injustice of prohibition is evermore criminal,” said Weisser.

“Each time we don’t end prohibition and somebody else gets arrested or some drug deal goes bad, there’s more need to push for legalization and end prohibition. We didn’t win, so I’ve still got to fight.”


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