[Nov. 3 2020 Update: Prop 207 passes in Arizona, legalizing recreational marijuana]
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) -- If it's approved by voters in the November 2020 election, Proposition 207 will legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona.
Prop. 207 is nicknamed by some as the “pot prop.” Its official name is “The Smart and Safe Arizona Act.” The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office describes it 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.
If Prop. 207 passes, anyone 21 and older can legally buy, possess, and consume 1 ounce of marijuana. But smoking it in public places would still be banned.
Thanks to signatures submitted by Smart and Safe Arizona, a citizens initiative to legalize cannabis for adult use in the state, recreational marijuana will be on the ballot.
Some critics say passing the initiative would line the pockets of a small group of people, and claim 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 is 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."
But supporters of the measure disagree. They say legalized marijuana will actually create safer communities by freeing up law enforcement to focus on "violent crime and hard drugs.”
"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.
Supporters also say 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, called the "Smart and Safe Arizona Act." 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.
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 is more comprehensive than the last effort to legalize recreational marijuana, and it would 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 say it’s not worth it.
"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,” says James.
James especially takes issue with the initiative removing the blood test from being used to prosecute a marijuana DUI, since THC metabolites can stay in the user’s system for several days.
“While it does stay in your system, chronic users may not feel impaired but could still be impaired, so that’s why that test matters. I’ve had conversations with a lot of people who, when they find out about the DUI exception, are horrified, and they’re like, ‘no, no, no. That’s dangerous.’ It’s one thing to do something for yourself. It’s another thing if you’re now - you can go out and harm others,” explains James.
A recent study in California, where marijuana is legal, shows the black market is exploding, partly because a majority of the state’s cities have outlawed the sale of recreational pot.
Already in Arizona, the Town of Gilbert passed an ordinance prohibiting recreational marijuana sales if Prop. 207 passes. The current medical dispensary, Curaleaf, will be the only exception.
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 would 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.
“With legalization comes more problems, not fewer,” contends James.
“I think this is, you know, the beginning of a much broader conversation here in Arizona, about how to modernize our laws and get in line with the rest of the country,” says Campbell.
Right now, 33 states in the U.S. have legalized medical cannabis, and of those, 11 states have legalized cannabis for adult recreational use.
If more states join that list, it could serve as a huge opportunity for industry growth as legalization supporters believe successful ballot initiatives could have a domino effect on other states. "We've seen public support continue to grow every year," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, the legalization advocacy group backing several of the measures.
Arizona is just one of five states voting on legal cannabis this November. New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, and Mississippi all have cannabis initiatives on their ballots.
According to azmarijuana.com, here are 18 facts about Prop. 207:
- 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).
- 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.
- The Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) would have to establish recreational marijuana regulations on or before April 5, 2021.
- 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.
- Marijuana use would remain illegal in public places (restaurants, parks, sidewalks, etc). Offenders are guilty of a petty offence.
- No marijuana products could be sold that imitate brands marketed to children or look like humans, animals, insects, fruits, toys or cartoons.
- 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.
- Employers have the right to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace.
- Driving, flying or boating impaired to even the slightest degree by marijuana would remain illegal (i.e., zero tolerance rule).
- Marijuana testing facilities will test marijuana for harmful contaminants (i.e., pesticides, molds, etc).
- “Qualified early applicants” (qualifications are currently undetermined) 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.
- The 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).
- 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.
- Medical marijuana dispensaries that obtain a recreational marijuana dispensary license(s) could operate both entities in the same/shared location.
- 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.
- Smoking in a public place would be a petty offense.
- On or after Jan. 1, 2023, the AZDHS can adopt rules to permit recreational marijuana deliveries.
- 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.
The Secretary of State's Office has certified the signatures submitted by the Smart and Safe Arizona initiative. After review, the petition exceeded the minimum requirement with approximately 255,080 valid signatures and will be placed on the General Election ballot as Prop. 207. pic.twitter.com/E6nM4vkLgf— Secretary Katie Hobbs (@SecretaryHobbs) August 11, 2020