Voters in Arizona have voted to legalize recreational marijuana in the state by passing Proposition 207 in the 2020 election.
However, just because the Smart and Safe Arizona Act passed doesn’t mean you’re allowed to freely smoke yet. The election first needs to be certified, then legal sales could start in March 2021.
“First, the election needs to be certified in early December,” Campaign Manager for Smart and Safe Arizona Stacy Pearson said.
Just because the proposition received more “yes” votes than “no” votes during the election doesn’t mean it instantly becomes law. First, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs must first certify the election.
The certification of elections is needed to provide the needed authority for swearing in newly elected officeholders and validating new voter initiatives. Certification takes place after ballots are counted in an election and canvassing, or compilation of election returns and validation of the outcome, is completed.
Selling marijuana without a license will also remain illegal after the proposition’s passing. The application process for licenses will be opened up on Jan. 19, and the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) will have a maximum of 60 days to issue licenses after applications are sent in.
The issuing of licenses will be prioritized to owners who are “from communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws” due to the Social Equity Ownership Program enacted by Proposition 207.
“It’s decriminalized once the initiative passes and is certified by the Secretary of State, but legal sales won’t begin until around March of 2021,” Pearson said.
Those who have previously been convicted of criminal marijuana charges will also find benefits in Prop. 207. Individuals who were previously convicted of possessing less than one ounce of marijuana or growing six or fewer plants will be able to petition to have their record expunged starting July 12, 2021.
Now, anyone 21 and older can legally buy, possess, and consume one ounce of marijuana. But smoking it in public places will still be banned.
The measure says that DHS “shall limit the strength of edible marijuana products to no more than 10 milligrams” of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, each. Edible marijuana products sold in medical facilities today range from 2.5 milligrams of THC to 25 milligrams or more. The measure does not restrict the potency of other marijuana products.
The measure also says that DHS “shall” adopt rules regarding delivery, but extra provisions were added to ensure delivery is only made to people who order from a licensed facility.
The measure will prohibit delivery vehicles from carrying “extra or unallocated marijuana” that could be offered to customers who hadn’t yet placed an order for delivery.
This is intended to prevent delivery drivers from simply selling to people on the street, according to the measure’s authors.
Demitri Downing is the founder of the Arizona Marijuana Industry Association.
“It’s not like everybody is going to go out and use cannabis,” said Downing. “People now have the ability to choose when they want to, but this does not in any way whatsoever imply that more people will be consuming cannabis.”
Thanks to signatures submitted by Smart and Safe Arizona, a citizens initiative to legalize cannabis for adult use in the state, recreational marijuana was put on this year’s ballot.
Some critics said passing the initiative would line the pockets of a small group of people. They also said that those operating medical marijuana businesses would get the first crack at breaking into a lucrative industry. “This is very much about taking the people who are involved with big marijuana, who have funded this initiative to the tune of millions of dollars, and lining their pockets,” said Lisa James, chair of “Arizonans for Health and Public Safety,” leading the NO on 207 campaign.
Another concern voiced by opponents was that marijuana could become more accessible to minors. “I think there’s a lot here to worry about,” said Robert Leger, a spokesman for Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy. “If you have a vote that says it’s OK to use it, I think those kids who might be on the fence might are more likely to say, ‘The voters say it’s a good thing to have; it can’t be bad for us.’ I think it makes it more legitimate in the eyes of a teenager.”
But supporters of the measure disagreed. They said legalized marijuana would actually create safer communities by freeing up law enforcement to focus on “violent crime and hard drugs.”
Supporters also said the initiative was written in a way that would eliminate the black market. “We wanted to avoid a ‘Wild, Wild West’ scenario,” said Chad Campbell, a former state lawmaker and chair of Proposition 207. He also said the 16% tax on the measure will benefit our state, with the money being used to fund state highways, community colleges and police and fire departments.
During the pandemic, there was a reported spike in use of medical marijuana. Dispensaries say they saw an increase in business once COVID-19 hit. “If you actually drive by our dispensary right now you’ll see a line that wraps around the building,” said Raul Molina with Mint Dispensary in Tempe, back in April.
In 2016, Proposition 205, an initiative attempting to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona, failed to pass by a narrow margin. It failed by fewer than 67,100 votes, with 51.3% of voters saying no.
Proponents of legal marijuana didn’t give up and wrote a new initiative. “It incorporates lessons learned from the 2016 campaign, as well as from other states that have already legalized cannabis,” explained Stacy Pearson, a political consultant who had helped run the campaign.
The breakdown of where the revenue will go allows for a third to go to community college districts, more than 31% to police departments, another 25% to the Highway User Revenue Fund and 10% to the Justice Reinvestment Fund for public and behavioral health programs.
Arizona is just one of five states that voted on legal cannabis in this election. New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, and Mississippi all had cannabis initiatives on their ballots.
Click here to learn more about Prop 207.