Tag Archives: Arizona

Arizona joins four other states voting on recreational marijuana in November

A voter initiative to legalize recreational marijuana will be on the November ballot in Arizona. The state’s Supreme Court last week rejected a final legal challenge to the measure.

A lower court judge had thrown out the challenge, saying the group called Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy didn’t have a right to sue.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry’s ruling went on to reject all of the reasons opponents laid out for keeping the initiative off the ballot.

The opponents said initiative backers used illegal and unconstitutional “bait-and-switch tactics” and that the initiative violates Arizona’s statutes in three ways. They include a misleading 100-word summary that leaves out important provisions, an “incoherent” text and title that obscures the extent of its impact on other laws, and a failure to provide a legal funding mechanism.

The high court sidestepped the right-to-sue argument, with Chief Justice Scott Bales calling Gentry’s reliance on a 2015 rewrite of a law “murky at best, and rather than wade into those waters, we turn to the merits.”

Bales went on to affirm Gentry’s ruling rejecting the merits of the opponents’ lawsuit, saying the summary substantially complied with the law’s requirements for initiatives.

The ruling means that Proposition 205 is on November’s general election ballot.

Four other states will also have recreational marijuana initiatives on their ballots, including California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada.

Voters in Florida, Montana, North Dakota and Arkansas will vote on medical marijuana.

Under the measure, adults 21 and older could carry up to one ounce of marijuana and consume it privately. Adults could also cultivate up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed space and possess the marijuana produced by the plants. No more than a dozen plants would be allowed in a single residence.

The system would regulate pot in a way proponents say is similar to alcohol, with a 15 percent tax on all retail marijuana sales. Most of the new state revenue would go to Arizona public schools and education programs.

Barrett Marson, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said it was “a good day for voters who want to end marijuana prohibition in Arizona.”

“Voters will get the opportunity that they requested — more than 258,000 people signed a petition to put this before the voters,” Marson said. “The Supreme Court agreed voters should have the final say on whether adults should have the right to legally purchase marijuana.

The Secretary of State confirmed that about 177,000 of those signatures were valid, more than the approximately 151,000 need to qualify for the ballot.

Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which includes two prominent county attorneys and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, said they will now turn to urging voters to reject the measure.

“Our goal now is to make sure that every Arizonan enters the voting booth in November with a full understanding of both the intended and the unintended impacts of the 20 pages of new laws in Prop 205,” Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said in a statement. “We hope all citizens will read the lengthy legalese before voting and will learn how devastating Proposition 205 would be to our state if passed.”

Opponents say backers have not told voters about changes to DUI laws, child custody issues, employment law and many other laws.

In another development, a Maricopa County judge ordered one change to the ballot description voters will see but rejected other revisions sought by the backers.

Judge James Blomo agreed with the measure’s backers that the description crafted by Secretary of State Michele Reagan wrongly said marijuana will be legal for people over 21, when it should be 21 and older, and ordered it changed.

Blomo rejected efforts to insert language showing that a 15 percent marijuana tax would mainly funds schools and enforcement efforts and another minor change. Blomo said omitting the descriptions aren’t misleading and Reagan has the discretion to leave them off.


Disenfranchisement in Arizona, N.C. primaries

As we’ve seen in the Arizona and North Carolina primaries, the Shelby decision has ushered in a renaissance of voter disenfranchisement and Congress must step in to stop it before the general election.

The disenfranchisement taking place in these states since freed from Section 5 oversight is a canary in the coal mine, a sign of things to come, as we approach the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

In Maricopa County, Arizona – which is 40 percent people of color, a much greater percentage than the rest of the state — some voters waited more than five hours to cast their ballots after polling places were reduced from 200 to 60.

Under North Carolina’s restrictive and discriminatory voter laws that were rushed through immediately after the VRA was gutted, many low-income, minority, student, and elderly voters lost the right to have their voice heard in our democracy.

In a country that so prides itself on being a beacon of democracy to the world, that is a national disgrace. Congress has a responsibility to hold hearings on this voting discrimination and on the two bipartisan VRA restoration bills languishing from inaction.

For the sake of the integrity of the upcoming general election, we urge Congress to act now.

Wade Henderson is president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Editor’s note: Arizona and North Carolina previously were covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act due to long histories of voting discrimination against Latinos, Native Americans and African Americans and both have restricted access to the vote since the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in 2013. 


Grand Canyon development dealt blow

The U.S. Forest Service dealt a huge blow to a company that wants to build hundreds of homes, high-end boutiques and five-star hotels just outside Grand Canyon National Park.

The Kaibab National Forest on Friday rejected an application for a road easement that developers needed to move forward with the project in Tusayan, a small town a couple of miles from the park’s South Rim entrance.

Forest Supervisor Heather Provencio said the project is deeply controversial and opposed by most of the tens of thousands of people who commented on it. She said the envisioned development would “substantially and adversely” affect the Grand Canyon and nearby tribal lands.

Environmentalists applaud decision

Environmentalists applauded the decision and said they’re hopeful it will put a permanent stop to plans by Stilo Development Group USA. They’ve said the growth would mar the beauty of the region and stress resources.

“This is just not the right place for it,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney for Earthjustice.

Developers have sought for decades to seize on the heavy traffic in Tusayan, bringing forth proposals that would boost the population of about 600 in Tusayan and attempt to lure even more tourists.

Stilo spokesman Andy Jacobs said the company is disappointed but willing to address concerns over water sources, the scope of the project, and the impacts on infrastructure and visitation at Grand Canyon National Park. He and the town said they weren’t given that opportunity.

Provencio said the town’s application didn’t meet screening criteria but even if it did, she likely would have rejected it because “there is significant evidence the proposal is not in the public interest.” She said the town could reapply once numerous concerns are addressed.

Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain said the Forest Service should have given the application fair consideration.

The forest’s decision also means that Tusayan cannot move forward with plans for affordable housing on land once owned by Stilo and completely surrounded by the Kaibab National Forest. The Town Council approved the creation of a housing authority and bylaws this week, said Mayor Craig Sanderson.

“We’re in the middle of pushing forward in anticipation of being able to utilize the land that we own and with this decision, it puts that on its heels,” he said. “Where do we go now?”

Frank Lloyd Wright School raises $2 million to remain open

The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture has reached a $2 million fundraising goal that will keep it from shutting down.

The Scottsdale-based Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation announced this week that the school’s doors would remain open, The Arizona Republic reports.

The institution’s future has been up in the air after it lost accreditation status last year. The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, which accredits universities and colleges, decided it would no longer recognize schools that are part of larger institutions with missions beyond education.

Because the foundation also oversees historical-building preservation and the Wright archives in New York, the academic program must be incorporated as a financially independent subsidiary. The $2 million will help make that happen.

The foundation and architecture school is now working on a “change of control” application to the Higher Learning Commission, including legal and incorporation documents. The commission is expected to review the application in June. If approved, the school can file documents with both federal and state agencies. The process is expected to be completed by 2017.

Wright, who died in 1959, designed 1,141 architectural works. More than one-third of his buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or are in a National Historic District.

The school operates at two campuses, Taliesin West in Scottsdale and Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Students attend the Scottsdale campus in the spring and fall terms, with summer classes held in Wisconsin. The school offers a three-year master’s program and has continued to admit students since the accreditation change.

The Frank Lloyd Wright school had only 23 students during the recent fall term, making it likely the nation’s smallest accredited, degree-granting architecture program. Dean Aaron Betsky said the school hopes to grow to around 40 to 45 students by 2019 and eventually 60 to 65 students.

More than 217 individuals, foundations and corporations contributed to the $2 million “independence campaign.” Donors included several high-profile architects such as Wright’s grandson Eric Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry, known for the design of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum building in Bilbao, Spain.

30 years after heist, museum hopes to get piece back

An empty wooden frame once occupied by Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-Ochre” sits at the center of a gallery at the University of Arizona’s Museum of Art in Tucson. 

Next to it are the composite drawings of two people police say stole the painting the day after Thanksgiving in 1985. The museum wants to remind visitors of the heist in hopes that a new lead in the 30-year unsolved mystery will appear. 

“We have not given up hope about getting the painting back,” Gina Compitello-Moore, the museum’s marketing director, said. “By not having it, it’s almost as if a member of our family is missing.”

The painting by the abstract expressionist was stolen on Nov. 29, 1985 from the small museum that also has works by Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keeffe. 

The museum had just opened when a man and a woman walked in. They were the sole visitors. The woman, described as being in her mid-50s with shoulder-length reddish and blond hair, distracted the a security guard by making small-talk while the man, who appeared to be in his 20s and wore a mustache and glasses, cut the painting from the large frame, leaving the edges of the canvass attached. 

Within minutes, they were gone, taking with them one of the museum’s most important pieces. The painting was valued at about $600,000 when it was stolen. 

“We have no idea why this particular painting was stolen. It could have been the size of the work. It could have been that this is probably his most recognized work,” Compitello-Moore said.

Brian Seastone, the university’s police chief, was an officer back then who helped investigate the heist. He says the department, along with the FBI and other agencies working the theft, received a number of tips that led them nowhere. 

“The gentleman pretty much knew what he wanted, it appeared, and went upstairs. And after a few minutes they both left very quickly and it drew the attention of the security officer who was there,” Seastone said. “Since then, it’s kind of become not a legend but one of those things that’s out there that people will talk about once in a while.” 

Seastone says the man’s mustache and glasses may have been fake, an effort to disguise himself, and that the woman also may have been in costume.

Compitello-Moore said now is a good time to bring attention to the stolen painting because it could have changed hands by now, and its owner could not know they have a stolen piece. 

“We’re happy to have to have the frame in there but we of course wish it were the painting,” she said.

Federal court upholds ban on sales of puppy mill dogs

A federal court has upheld a measure banning pet stores in Phoenix from selling puppies produced in inhumane, commercial, dog breeding facilities known as puppy mills.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona rejected a pet store’s federal constitutional challenge to the local ordinance.

Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel of animal protection litigation for The Humane Society of the United States, responded, “Not only does this type of regulation crack down on the puppy mill industry, but it also reduces local pet overpopulation and euthanasia rates in shelters by driving the market toward the adoption of homeless animals and purchases from only responsible breeders.”

According to the organization, more than 70 localities across the country have enacted similar ordinances.

Four federal courts have determined that the laws are constitutional. Those courts are in Florida, Illinois and Rhode Island.

Protesters clash over Confederate flag issue at Phoenix Walmart

Things got noisy outside a west Phoenix Walmart after the company’s decision to remove Confederate flag merchandise attracted scores of protesters and counter-protesters.

The Arizona Republic reports that Jon Ritzheimer organized a July 5 protest of Walmart’s decision. Ritzheimer is a former Marine who staged a contentious rally outside a Phoenix mosque in May.

His group of self-proclaimed “patriots,” some of them armed, waved the rebel flag alongside the American one while chanting “U-S-A.”

Counter-protesters clashed with Ritzheimer’s group. They called the flag racist and lauded Walmart’s decision to remove it from shelves.

An unofficial police count estimates that the event drew about 100 people. Phoenix police spokesman Lt. Randy Force says 11 officers were at the event after Walmart management called police.

Supreme Court upholds Arizona redistricting commission

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Arizona ruling on June 29 determined the fate of the state’s bid to remove partisan politics from the process of drawing districts for its members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In this 5-4 ruling, conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court’s four liberals in backing an independent commission approved by the state’s voters to draw the districts.

The court ruled that the ballot initiative did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that state legislatures set congressional district boundaries. The ruling could pave the way for more states to adopt similar procedures. Six other states, including California, already have independent commissions.

Critics say partisan “gerrymandering” leads to House of Representatives districts being drawn in a way intended to give the party controlling the legislature the maximum number of seats possible while marginalizing voters favoring the other party.

More than 200,000 protest development plans near Grand Canyon

The U.S. Forest Service is considering a proposal that would clear the way for a mega-development only a mile from the Grand Canyon National Park boundary.

“The local, national and international communities have spoken and the message is clear — this development doesn’t belong next to the Grand Canyon,” said Robin Silver, a founder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now it’s up to the Forest Service to act in the public interest and reject this proposal.”

This spring, more than 200,000 people submitted public comments urging the U.S. Forest Service to reject a special permit request from Stilo Development Group to build roads, sewers and other utilities through the public lands within the Kaibab National Forest. The access is needed to develop the 580-resident community of Tusayan, Arizona — near the southern entrance to the park — from a tourist town into a complex of high-end homes, retail stores and restaurants.

President Theodore Roosevelt guaranteed federal protection for the Grand Canyon in 1908, declaring, “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it.”

The Stilo project is one of several proposals environmentalists say threaten the canyon. Another would restart operations at a nearby uranium mine.

Environmentalists say the Stilo development threatens groundwater that feeds the canyon’s creeks and springs, endangering some of the park’s most important and biodiverse wildlife habitat.

“Building a massive sprawling development at the gateway to Grand Canyon threatens the very things that the park was established to protect — the waters, wildlife, dark skies and opportunities to experience natural quiet,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “That is why thousands of people here in Arizona and across the country are asking the Forest Service to reject this proposal.”

The opposition includes business owners in Tusayan and nearby Flagstaff, a former Coconino County development director, a former Grand Canyon National Park superintendent, outdoor enthusiasts and many park visitors.

Also, the Department of the Interior warned the massive development was raising international concerns over potential harm to the Grand Canyon, a World Heritage Site. The National Park Service has called the project one of the biggest threats to the park in its nearly 100-year history.

David Nimkin, Southeast senior regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, added, “The Grand Canyon is one of our most beloved and iconic national parks — a sentiment that reverberated in messages of opposition sent by our members, supporters and partners in Arizona and across the country.”

On behalf of several groups, the environmental legal defense group Earthjustice submitted a letter in May urging the Forest Service to reject the proposal or, at a minimum, to prepare a full environmental impact statement.

The Forest Service will review the comments this summer and then decide whether to reject the application outright, proceed with a minimal “environmental assessment” with little public review or prepare an environmental impact statement.

An environmental assessment would take up to a year to complete. An impact statement would take twice that long.