Is Arizona’s Legal Marijuana Measure Still Alive?


While four other states enacted new marijuana legalization measures on Tuesday, only Arizona’s proposal to end cannabis prohibition was defeated.

Or was it?

As of now, the Arizona Secretary of State’s office reports that the measure trails, with 48.05 percent of votes in support and 51.95 percent opposed, a difference of 79,869 votes.

But as of Thursday night there were still more than 400,000 votes left to count. That’s nearly a fifth of the electorate.

Many of the outstanding ballots are from voters who requested a mail ballot rather than risk having to wait in long lines at physical polling places. According to the state, approximately 2.1 million ballots were mailed out and 1.7 million were returned by Election Day, in time to be considered valid.

Plus, there are provisional ballots from voters whose registrations couldn’t immediately be verified by polling place workers.

In order for the marijuana legalization measure, Prop. 205, to pull ahead in the final vote count, the outstanding ballots would have to break about 60 percent percent in favor of the measure to 40 percent percent opposed.

That’s possible, but is it likely?

The vast majority of the outstanding votes, about 365,000, are in Maricopa County, which has so far come out against legalization by a margin of 48.7 percent to 51.3 percent. Another 20,000 are left in Yavapai County, which went 43.1 percent to 56.9 percent in opposition. And 35,000 still need to be counted in Pinal County, where the measure lost 46.9 percent to 53.1 percent.

However, there is a decent chunk of votes left in at least one area where the measure led, albeit very narrowly: 32,000 ballots are yet to be counted in Pima County, where legalization won 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent.

As of Thursday, the New York Times was projecting that more votes from areas that supported Donald Trump for president were yet to be counted than those from places where voters favored Hillary Clinton:

arizona votes not yet counted

Legalization advocates’ best hope may the Prop. 205 campaign was able to wrangle a large number of supporters into mailing in their ballots in at the last minute.

In 2010, Arizonans very narrowly approved a medical marijuana law. In that case, the measure was also trailing after Election Day votes were counted, but by a considerably smaller margin than the current full legalization initiative is behind: 6,519 votes. It wasn’t until 11 days after the election that the state declared the measure was approved by a margin of just 4,341 votes.

It is estimated that the final results in the current race won’t be known until next week.

For now, exit polling conducted on Election Day adds greater insight into who supported and who opposed the measure. Not surprisingly, voters under the age of 44 voted for legalization while older Arizonans said no. And Democrats overwhelmingly favored the measure while Republicans were strongly against it. Independents were also in support.

Voters with annual incomes of less than $100,000 backed Prop. 205 while the more well-to-do opposed it.

But in what might come as somewhat of a surprise, Latinos overwhelmingly supported the measure, by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent, while whites opposed it 45 percent to 55 percent. Legalization opponents made a concerted effort this year to convince Hispanics to oppose marijuana law reform, but it apparently didn’t work: Latinos also broadly supported the legalization measure in California, exit polls there showed.

Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

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