Arizona votes legalize marijuana

After narrowly rejecting a similar measure in 2016, Arizona voters this time round comprehensively approved a ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in the Grand Canyon State. The measure, Proposition 207, passed with 60 percent of the vote.

Starting November 30, 2020, when the voter-approved initiative is officially certified, it will be legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants for personal use. Proposition 207 also contains provisions for the establishment of a legal, regulated cannabis industry. The Arizona Department of Health, which oversees the state’s MMJ program, will be responsible for issuing cultivation, processing and retail licenses to would-be adult-use marijuana businesses. Already established medical marijuana businesses will initially have priority when licenses are first issued, which should begin as early as January, 2021.

Retail cannabis sales will be taxed at the state’s 16 percent sales tax which, on top of revenues from licensing fees, is expected to bring in around $166 million annually once the market matures, according to a fiscal analysis by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. After covering the costs of implementing a legal marijuana industry, around a third of the funds generated from cannabis sales will go to community colleges, 31 percent to local law enforcement and fire departments, 25 percent to transportation programs and 10 percent to public health and criminal justice initiatives with a focus on communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

Marijuana reform advocates celebrated the end of marijuana prohibition in a state that previously had some of the country’s harshest drug laws.

“Until now, Arizona had imposed some of the strictest prohibition laws in the country; in some instances, the possession of even small amounts of marijuana was classified as a felony,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri. “By rejecting this failed policy, no Arizonan going forward will be saddled with a criminal conviction for engaging in the personal possession or cultivation of cannabis, or face the lifelong stigma that comes with it.”

In this regard, Proposition 207 contains restorative justice provisions allowing people with marijuana-related convictions to petition the courts for expungement from July 12, 2021, while another establishes a social equity program to promote minority-ownership of marijuana businesses.

Altieri noted the measure’s success in a state that has voted for the Republican candidate in 16 of the last 18 elections.

“Proposition 207 will disrupt the illicit market, end low-level marijuana arrests, create jobs and new revenue. This result once again shows that marijuana legalization is not exclusively a ‘blue’ state issue, but an issue that is supported by a majority of all Americans — regardless of party politics,” Altieri said.

This support was indeed reflected in polling on the issue in Arizona, however some surveys reported mixed responses. No state has ever rejected a marijuana legalization ballot proposal twice though so the group behind the measure, Smart and Safe Arizona, knew it stood a good chance of success.

Like in 2016 though, the proposal was subjected to a legal challenge by a plaintiff who wanted the question removed from the ballot. The plaintiff’s attorneys argued the provisions were unclear, but this was swiftly rejected by the ruling judge.

Arizona’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana, alongside three other states that chose to do so through the 2020 ballot process, means there are now 15 states plus the District of Columbia where adult-use cannabis is legal.

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