Here Are Four Ways Marijuana Could Become Legal in 2020


Javier Torres works as a patient consultant at Giving Tree, a marijuana dispensary in north Phoenix. Photo by Grayson Schmidt/Cronkite News.

By Camaron Stevenson

January 13, 2020

More than half of Arizonans support recreational marijuana.

Arizona voters may have multiple options to approve the legalization of marijuana this November thanks to four different citizen-led measures announced by local and national organizations.

Arizona is one of 22 states that allows medicinal marijuana, and recent polling shows state residents support legalizing the drug entirely. A November poll of 900 registered voters by OH Predictive Insights found that 54% of those surveyed support recreational marijuana use among adults.

With that being said, here are the four different ways recreational marijuana could be legalized in Arizona this November.

1. The Small Business Liberty Act 

The Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce announced plans last November to legalize marijuana by way of referendum. The group plans to have the state legislature vote on the referendum –  called the Small Business Liberty Act (SBLA). 

Unlike ballot initiatives, referendums are first approved by lawmakers, then passed on to the voters. If the legislature approves the SBLA, supporters would need to gather 118,823 signatures to qualify the referendum for the November ballot. 

Chamber CEO Mason Cave said the goal is to make sure voters are presented with good legislation.

“We like the idea of putting it through the legislature,” he said. “We think that would be wise.”

If passed, the state would issue 125 new marijuana licenses, and require current license-holders to pay $100,000 to operate in the recreational market. Under the referendum, the Board of Liquor Control would also regulate recreational marijuana, separating it from medical marijuana, which is currently controlled by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The SBLA is the only route to legalization working its way through the legislature. Other measures, like the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, are opting to gather the 237,645 signatures needed to sidestep state lawmakers by way of ballot initiative.

2. The Smart and Safe Arizona Act

Spearheaded by the Arizona Dispensaries Association (ADA) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Smart and Safe Arizona is the most well-funded effort to get marijuana on the ballot. Campaign finance records show the PAC behind the measure has raised $1.2 million over the past year.

The initiative would allow anyone over 21 to possess, use, and grow marijuana, earmark tax revenue for education and infrastructure, and expunge all low-level marijuana convictions. The Smart and Safe Arizona Act would also require a smaller investment from current license-holders than the SBLA, capping costs to convert to a recreational license at $25,000.

“You have to have home-grow. You have to have expungement and social investment in communities that have been overpoliced,” NORML state director Mikel Weisser told Fox 10. “Those are the minimum expectations. It has all that and more.”

3. The Arizona Cannabis Justice Act

Other marijuana advocates are supporting the Arizona Cannabis Justice Act. The effort seeks to lower the age for marijuana possession, use, and cultivation to 18. This puts it at odds, however, with the federal age for the use of tobacco products, which changed to 21 last month

The passing of this initiative would decriminalize all cannabis entirely and expunge all marijuana-related convictions. The law would also prohibit the state from working with any other government agencies to enforce federal cannabis laws. Revenue from marijuana would be directed towards education and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Marijuana advocates claim the initiative would “decriminalizes all cannabis offenses,” among other things.

The AZ Justice League, the PAC behind the Cannabis Justice Act, reported $1,055 in contributions and 3,058 signatures collected thus far.

4. The 100% Complete Re-Legalization of Marijuana and Hashish Initiative

Perhaps the most uphill battle towards marijuana legalization lies with the PAC known as RAD (Relegalize All Drugs) Final 1. The organization currently has no known financial backing, and failed to make it on the ballot with similar initiatives in 2018 and 2016.

According to RADArizona, the goal of the initiative is to “end police violence and restore freedom of choice in Arizona.”

The 100% Complete Re-Legalization of Marijuana and Hashish (CRLMH) initiative would abolish any current state laws and regulations tied to marijuana, and forbid any additional taxes on the plant. The law would also prevent the state from enforcing marijuana laws of other government entities.

A nationwide movement to legalize marijuana

These four initiatives are part of a nationwide movement to legalize marijuana. Pew Research found that two-thirds of Americans now support doing so.

In November, the House House Judiciary Committee voted to approve a comprehensive reform bill that would decriminalize marijuana and expunge decades of drug convictions. Reps Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, and Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, are co-sponsors on the bill, but it has not made it to the House floor for a vote.

As the nation waits for Congress to act, local advocates have until July 2 to obtain the required signatures for the referendum and three initiatives and file with the Secretary of State. If approved, voters can expect them to be on their ballots this November.


  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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