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Marijuana plants grow at a dispensary in Denver. / Brennan Linsley, AP

PHOENIX -- Arizona residents won't be toking up in public anytime soon. At least, not legally.

Safer Arizona, a cannabis-reform political-action committee, announced it stopped collecting signatures for its 2014 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana last week.

The volunteer-driven initiative fell well below the 250,000 signatures necessary to get on the ballot, said Mikel Weisser, executive director for Safer Arizona.

"It was around a third of what we were after," Weisser said. "It's not going to be a number that we are rallying behind, it's a benchmark to improve from."

The organization lacked the funding and the manpower to collect all the required signatures, he said. All four of the volunteer organizers held day jobs and could work on the legislation only part time.

Additionally, the ballot initiative faced pushback from within the pro-marijuana community. The measure, if passed, would have redirected the issuing of marijuana licenses from the Arizona Department of Health Services to a revenue-related department, Weisser said.

"There were people in the dispensary industry and the cannabis establishment that liked our vigor and verve, but a lot of people were worried about what we would do for the business model," he said.

Safer Arizona isn't throwing in the towel, however.

The organization has already begun redirecting the momentum of the signature campaign for a 2016 ballot initiative, one that reflects the needs of the community, he said.

Weisser will have his first public meeting for the 2016 initiative with the Yavapai Cannabis Coalition on Wednesday.

"One of the things we have is tens of thousands of people who have already signed for us, and hundreds of people who have already volunteered for us and now we will be able to build out of that a much mightier ballot initiative," Weisser said.

To do that, Safer Arizona plans to build a united front with the Marijuana Policy Project, the organization that drafted Arizona's medical-marijuana bill, and already has plans to draft a bill similar to the one passed in Colorado.

"Over the next couple years we will be building a broad coalition of community activists, local leaders, organizations and businesses that are committed to passing a law that regulates marijuana similarly to alcohol," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Our strong network of support in the state will be strengthened even further by joining forces with the dedicated activists behind the 2014 effort. Marijuana prohibition's days are numbered in Arizona," Tvert said.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Ariz. group ends '14 effort to legalize marijuana

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