PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) -- The controversial Proposition 207 has passed, legalizing recreational marijuana in Arizona, according to the Associated Press. Possession becomes legal when the election results are certified in about a month and sales should begin in May.

Prop. 207 was nicknamed by some as the “pot prop.” Its official name was “The Smart and Safe Arizona Act.”

So what does this mean for our state, now that it has been approved by voters? The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office described Prop. 207 this way:

The law would allow limited marijuana possession, use, and cultivation by adults 21 or older; amend criminal penalties for marijuana possession; ban smoking marijuana in public; impose a 16% excise tax on marijuana sales to fund public programs; authorize state/local regulation of marijuana licensees; and allow expungement of marijuana offenses.

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.

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.

The debate has been heated on both sides of this issue.

THOSE WHO OPPOSED PROP. 207

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.

Opponents of 'pot prop' say ballot measure will line pockets of small group of people

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 more legitimate in the eyes of a teenager."

THOSE WHO SUPPORTED PROP. 207

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.

Medical marijuana sales rise in Arizona amid pandemic

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.

PAST ATTEMPTS TO LEGALIZE RECREATIONAL POT

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.

Campbell says this year's initiative was more comprehensive than the last effort to legalize recreational marijuana, and could bring in millions of dollars a year through a 16% excise tax. "We anticipate it'll generate probably about $300 million a year, at least in the beginning and then probably grow over time," says Campbell.

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.

While more revenue for vital programs is needed, opponents of Prop. 207 had argued that it would be too high a price to pay. "It’s going to do harm to our children. It’s going to make our roads less safe and it’s going to be a burden to our economy,” James had said.

The Smart and Safe Act also has a provision for low-level marijuana offenders to petition to have their records expunged. Arizona’s Department of Health Services will regulate pot sales since its medical program is already in place.

Currently, medical marijuana license holders would be first in line to sell recreational marijuana. Once ballot initiatives become law, they are difficult to change.

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.

Now that the measure has been approved, Arizonans have a lot of questions moving forward.

-When can consumers start buying recreational marijuana?

Most likely April of 2021, after the state has issued the required licenses to Arizona dispensaries.

-Who can buy recreational marijuana?

Anyone 21 years and older.

-Who will be allowed to sell recreational marijuana?

All 131 Medical marijuana dispensaries currently operating in Arizona will be allowed to buy an additional license to sell recreationally. And 26 new licenses will also be issued to new businesses.

-Can cities or towns prohibit recreational marijuana sales?

Yes and no.

The town of Gilbert passed an ordinance that prohibits any new recreational marijuana dispensaries from opening. However, they cannot stop established medical marijuana businesses in town from selling pot to adults.

Also, municipalities cannot stop individuals from growing or using marijuana in their own home.

Dr. Elaine Burns is medical director of the SW Medical Marijuana Physicians Group. Her big concern is that Prop 207 will encourage medical marijuana patients to start treating themselves. "It's like going into a drug store and getting over the counter cough syrup versus where your condition might really necessitate a prescription," said Burns.

Using or possessing marijuana in Arizona wont be legal until the election is certified November 30.

Prop 207 is expected to generate around $250 million per year for the state.

According to azmarijuana.com, here are 18 facts about Prop. 207:

  • 1. Adults 21 and older would be able to possess 1 ounce of marijuana with no more than 5 grams of it being marijuana concentrates (extracts).
  • 2. Limits home cultivation to 6 plants at an individual’s primary residence and 12 plants at a residence where two or more individuals who are at least 21 years old reside at one time.
  • 3. The Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) would have to establish recreational marijuana regulations on or before April 5, 2021.
  • 4. A 16% excise tax (the same as cigarettes and alcohol) would be placed on recreational marijuana products. Money from the excise tax would fund various state agencies and be dispersed between community college districts, police and fire departments, and the Highway User fund.
  • 5. Marijuana use would remain illegal in public places (restaurants, parks, sidewalks, etc.). Offenders are guilty of a petty offense.
  • 6. No marijuana products could be sold that imitate brands marketed to children or look like humans, animals, insects, fruits, toys or cartoons.
  • 7. Marijuana edibles will be limited to a maximum of 10mg of THC per edible, and limited to a maximum of 100mg of THC per package of edibles.
  • 8. Employers have the right to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace.
  • 9. Driving, flying or boating impaired to even the slightest degree by marijuana would remain illegal (i.e., zero tolerance rule).
  • 10. Marijuana testing facilities will test marijuana for harmful contaminants (i.e., pesticides, molds, etcs).
  • 11. “Qualified early applicants” can apply for a recreational dispensary license (approx. 145 licenses will be available) with AZDHS. Any remaining or additional licenses will be provided by random selection.
  • 12. AZDHS may issue a marijuana establishment license (recreational marijuana dispensary license) to no more than two recreational dispensaries per county that contains no medical marijuana dispensaries, or one recreational dispensary license per county that contains one medical marijuana dispensary (AZDHS will accept applications from Jan 19, 2021 – Mar 9, 2021).
  • 13. On or before April 5, 2021, medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to sell recreational marijuana to adults until the AZDHS issues licenses for recreational dispensaries.
  • 14. Medical marijuana dispensaries that obtain a recreational marijuana dispensary license(s) could operate both entities in the same/shared location.
  • 15. Possessing more than 1 ounce but less than 2.5 ounces would be a petty offense. Minors caught with less than 1 ounce would receive up to a $100 fine and 4 hours of drug counseling for a first offense. A second offense would be up to a $100 fine and 8 hours of drug counseling. A third offense would be a class 1 misdemeanor.
  • 16. Smoking in a public place would be a petty offense.
  • 17. On or after Jan. 1, 2023, the AZDHS can adopt rules to permit recreational marijuana deliveries.
  • 18. Beginning July 12, 2021, people convicted previously of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana or six or fewer plants or paraphernalia can petition to have the record expunged.
 

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