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As we enter the new year, Arizona residents are going to be seeing a few changes. Cannabis consumers celebrated across the state in early November when Arizona passed Prop 207, legalizing recreational marijuana in AZ. The contentious proposal passed with 60% of Arizona voters voting in favor of legalization, making Arizona one of 12 other states to have legalized recreational marijuana and cannabis products, including neighboring states California, Nevada, and Colorado. Being number 12 on the roster, Arizona is not considered a pioneer of legalization. However, along with Alaska, which voted to legalize marijuana in 2014, it is one of the reddest states to vote for legalization so far. So, what exactly does this mean for Arizona residents and for medical-marijuana cardholders?
Prop 207, “the pot prop,” as it’s been nicknamed, is going to affect the state in many ways. While marijuana users will doubtlessly feel the changes more acutely than others, at least early on, they are not the only ones who will feel a shift. Proposal 207 legalizes the consumption and possession of marijuana for adults over 21. That means that any adult over the age of 21 can legally buy marijuana and other cannabis products in a licensed dispensary. Prop 207 also makes it legal for adults to grow up to six of their own marijuana plants at home for personal use.
Along with being able to walk into any legal dispensary and buy cannabis products, any adult over 21 can have up to one ounce of marijuana in their possession and five grams of concentrates at any time. Smoking or consuming marijuana anywhere in public or outdoors is still prohibited, however. Consuming and possessing marijuana is still considered a federal offense, so people can still be arrested for crossing state lines with marijuana products, even if it is legal in their home state.
This is a huge step forward for Arizona. Until now, Arizona has had some of the strictest marijuana laws in the country. Where someone might be charged with just a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana in other states, in Arizona, people are being charged with felonies for illegal possession of marijuana, even in small amounts. Due perhaps in part to these strict laws and harsh punishments for the possession of marijuana, Arizona has the fourth-highest incarceration rates in the country.
Another important element to Prop 207 is how it will change the criminal system in Arizona. As we mentioned before, the state is known for its strict laws regarding marijuana possession. On average, nine people are arrested in Arizona each day on basic marijuana charges, and 90% of those people are incarcerated. Pending marijuana possession cases will most likely be dropped in light of Prop 207, and people already charged with the possession of marijuana can petition the court for expungement to have the charges completely removed from their records. The court is required to grant expungement to all legitimate petitioners unless the prosecutor can present enough evidence that the petitioner is not eligible for expungement.
All marijuana charges are currently charged as felonies in Arizona, which means that people charged with possession of marijuana could lose their right to vote, lose jobs, struggle to find employment, lose access to food, and other benefits, including public housing.
While the details about the expungement process aren’t yet specified in the proposition, it has set aside $4 million to help fund the process. That $4 million will most likely be applied for by non-profits to use in helping ex-convicts expunge their records. It could also go to funding attorneys working on expungement cases.
Marijuana charges disproportionately affect Black people nationwide. Black people are far more likely to face marijuana possession charges than white people, and in Arizona, Black people are nine times more likely to face possession charges than their white counterparts. While our country’s war on drugs and the prohibition of marijuana has been a gritty and racially tense affair for a long time, many people hope that Prop 207 will begin to establish a better sense of equality. Although this proposition alone won’t be enough to resolve the issue of disparity within the social justice system, it could be a step in the right direction.
If you are a medical marijuana cardholder depending on marijuana for medical treatment purposes, you might feel concerned about what Prop 207 could mean for you. Many other states that have made the transition from medical marijuana to recreational marijuana have experienced a bit of chaos at the start. Marijuana shortages are common in some states following recreational legalization, especially in states that did not have an established market and did not have access to enough growing facilities.
When Illinois legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, the huge rush of new recreational consumers on local dispensaries caused marijuana supplies to dwindle across the state, which impacted medical patients’ ability to get their prescription marijuana. While the Illinois marijuana shortage is expected to last for up to a year, experts in Arizona feel optimistic and don’t expect the same outcome. Before it went recreational, Illinois had a limited number of production warehouses, few existing dispensaries, and limits on new growers. Luckily, Arizona already has a more established and functioning medical market in place, which should be ready to handle the new product demand.
Experts and CEOs in the cannabis industry say that Arizona is prepared for the change to recreational and that medical-card users shouldn’t worry that their supply will be disrupted. However, they should prepare for longer than normal lines and wait times at their usual dispensaries. If you are a medical cardholder, you might consider shopping around to find the best dispensaries and ones that have expedited service for medical patients.
Even as recreational sales licenses start rolling out, medical dispensaries will continue to cater to their medical patients’ needs first. The medical market here in Arizona has been in effect since 2010, making it a mature and experienced market. It can handle the shift to include recreational sales without disrupting the accessibility to medical-card holders and those depending on marijuana to treat certain medical conditions.
In Arizona alone, there are 120 medical marijuana dispensaries already in operation, all of which anticipate seeing a huge increase in sales after dispensaries start receiving their licenses. Until now, dispensaries have only been able to sell their products to people with a doctor’s approval and state-issued medical marijuana card. After Prop 207, medical dispensaries and dispensaries can apply to sell to anyone over 21 years old.
Licenses haven’t been distributed to any dispensaries yet, so technically, the sale of recreational marijuana is still illegal. Once the licenses start rolling out, it shouldn’t take long before cannabis sales are booming across the state. Consumers can expect to be walking into any dispensary and buying legal cannabis around April 2021.
According to azmarijuana.com, dispensaries can start applying for licenses to sell to recreational users from January 19th through March 9th. Current medical dispensaries will be the first to get their licenses. However, new dispensaries and growing facilities might take a little longer to get their licenses approved and start operating, especially as they might receive some push-back from towns and communities against Prop 207. Currently, towns can still ban new facilities in their townships, which could cause some problems for new businesses trying to open.
Another bonus of Prop 207 is the positive effect it will have on the Arizona economy. Although it may take some time for new businesses to open, they probably won’t have to wait too long. Many existing medical dispensaries plan on expansions following Prop 207, and soon Arizona will be seeing new, multi-million-dollar dispensaries and warehouses being built across the state to accommodate the imminent surge in sales and high product demand. All these new additions to the already lucrative industry will bring more jobs to towns across the state and pour money into the local economy.
There will be an additional 16% excise tax on recreational marijuana products, which alone will generate between $200 million and $300 million for the state annually. This money will be distributed between the Department of Health Services and other law enforcement factions that will oversee the new program. The remainder will go to funding Arizona’s community colleges and other projects, like building new roads and highways.
Arizona residents have already undoubtedly start feeling the effects of Prop 207 since it's legalization. If you are in possession of a medical marijuana card, or if you are looking around to find the perfect dispensary for recreational use, visit our Zen Leaf location page to find a location near you!
Wondering what recreational legalization means for MMJ cardholders in Arizona?