Arizona to Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November

Arizona State Capitol Building at night with lights
Arizona State Capitol Building at night with lights
Source: Shutterstock

The decision whether to make adult-use cannabis legal in Arizona will be in voters’ hands come November.

The Smart and Safe Arizona Initiative gathered 420,000 signatures, of which the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office says 255,080 were valid. That gets the measure on the November ballot with 17,435 signatures to spare. The invalid signatures made up a failure rate of 38.62%. Secretary Katie Hobbs explained in a statement, that signee’s were either ineligible or were refused for filing for other reasons.

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Proposed Regulations

The Act says that adults aged 21 or older can legally possess and consume up to one ounce of marijuana, of which 5 grams can be a cannabis concentrate. Edible products can’t have more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving or 100mg of THC per package. People can also cultivate up to 6 plants in their primary residence, or 12 plants if two or more people over the age of 21 live together.

If you’re caught with more than an ounce but less than 2.5 ounces, it would be considered a petty offense. If you are under the age of 21 and are caught with less than an ounce of marijuana, you can be fined up to $100, and would also have to attend four hours of drug counseling for your first offense. A second offense lands you another $100 fine and eight hours of drug counseling. A third offense is a Class 1 Misdemeanor.

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Smoking would remain prohibited in public places like businesses, as well as open spaces like sidewalks and parks. Getting caught doing so would be a petty offense. Employers and property owners could also individually prohibit use at their workplaces and on their property.

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No more than two dispensaries will be allowed per county. That means if there is already a medical marijuana dispensary in the county, only one recreational dispensary can apply for a license; if no medical dispensaries exist, two recreational ones can apply.

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The Smart and Safe Act requires that all cannabis products must be clearly labeled and sealed in child-proof packaging. Cannabis companies are prohibited from purposely trying to target children, including banning the use of cartoons and toys in advertising. Any edible product that resembles candy, like gummy bears and gummy worms, or uses any other animal, insect, or fruit shape cannot be sold in Arizona. The Arizona Department of Public Services would oversee the sale of marijuana, on top of conducting testing and inspections of the products being sold.

Potential Benefits for the State 

Prop 207 promises to generate $3 billion in new revenue and create thousands of jobs in the first decade after passing. The products would have a 16% excise tax, which is the same rate cigarettes and alcohol are taxed in Arizona.

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That money, Smart and Safe says, would go toward community colleges, public safety, public health, and repair and maintenance of roads and highways. Some funding would go toward police departments to aid in training, equipment, and the creation of task forces to enforce new, stricter laws for people driving under the influence of marijuana. Those DUI laws include driving, flying, or boating while under the influence of marijuana, with no minimum acceptable impairment standard.

Starting July 12, 2021, people who were convicted of low-level marijuana charges could go through a process to have their criminal record expunged of that conviction. The Act defines a “low-level” offense as less than an ounce of marijuana or fewer than six plants, or anyone convicted for possession of paraphernalia. That, Smart and Safe Arizona says, would not only give those Arizonans better access to jobs and housing, but would also free up police officers to focus on other crimes.

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The Act’s creators say millions of dollars would go to the Department of Health Services for treatment of addiction and substance abuse, suicide prevention, mental health programs, and other reinvestment projects that fall under the Justice Department’s sector. That same Department is expected to establish recreational marijuana regulations by April 5, 2021, if the Smart and Safe Initiative passes.  There will be about 145 licenses available, and qualified applicants can seek out a recreational dispensary license early. Under the Act, the ADHS has a fairly narrow window where it’s required to accept applications: January 19 through March 9, 2021.

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Prop 205’s Failure

Medical marijuana has been legal in Arizona since 2010, and doctors have been able to prescribe marijuana and other Schedule 1 drugs since 1996. But a previous push to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona failed in 2016. Prop 205, The Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative, was voted down 51.32% to 48.48%.

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The push for Prop 205 was neck-and-neck through the entire race, thanks to the help of some questionable players. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which also went by Yes on 205 leading up to the 2016 vote, raised $6.5 million for its cause, with the largest donation coming from Marijuana Policy Project. Opponents got nearly the same amount, $6.4 million, but had more people contribute. Arizona was one of five states in 2016 to have citizen-initiated measures to legalize recreational cannabis, and was the only state in 2016 where opponents of marijuana legalization donated with more frequency than proponents.

The opponents’ largest donations came from Discount Tire, and another half-million-dollar donation came from Insys Therapeutics, which produces synthetic painkillers. That was the fentanyl company’s largest contribution it had ever made to any group fighting against marijuana legalization.

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Insys Therapeutics says it opposed Prop 205 because “it fail[ed] to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children,” but in August 2016, the company showed its true colors, admitting adult-use cannabis would come in direct competition with a synthetic cannabinoid called dronabinol that the company was developing.

Supporters and Opponents of Prop 207

As of July 18, 2020, Smart and Safe Arizona raised $3.48 million for its cause. $1.425 million of that came from a marijuana farm called Harvest Enterprises, Inc., and other $600,000 came from a medical marijuana business called CuraLeaf. Cresco Labs LLC, another marijuana firm, donated $300,000. The money raised for Prop 207 is significantly less than the amount garnered by supporters of Prop 205. That may be largely attributable to the coronavirus; Smart and Safe didn’t start fundraising until late 2019. It’s also possible people who donated in 2016 were less inclined to give money a second time.

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 A group called Arizonans for Health and Public Safety are organizing against Proposition 207. By July 18, 2020, that group had raised $142,065. $100,000 of that was from a 501(c)(4) nonprofit called the Center for Arizona Policy Action.

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