Recreational marijuana use will soon be legal in Arizona thanks to the simple passing of Proposition 207, but economic and logistical hurdles will remain before Arizonans feel the effects.
The measure, which was approved by more than 60% of voters in unofficial results as of November 3, decriminalizes recreational marijuana use and possession for those aged 21 and over. allows minor, non-violent marijuana offenders to request their criminal records deleted; and levies a consumption tax to support underfunded programs across the state.
Once the Arizona Secretary of State approves the proposal, which is expected to come in December, up to 1 ounce of marijuana will be legal to use and possess, except in public places. Despite the passage of the law, marijuana possession, distribution, and use remain federal crimes.
Pharmacies and growers, who have become a familiar presence in Arizona since voters narrowly approved marijuana for medical use in 2010, must await state approval to sell marijuana for recreational use. The state license application is expected to open in January, and the organizers of Proposition 207 predict recreational sales will start on April 5th.
“I think there will be a lot of very curious people who want to go to the pharmacy because they couldn’t before,” said Raul Molina, chief operations officer for the Mint Dispensary in Tempe.
Erase criminal records
A key element of Proposition 207 is the ability to clear a criminal record, which can hamper employment, nullify the right to vote, and damage reputation.
According to Jared Keenan, a senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona, Proposition 207 is the first Arizona voter action to offer expulsion. However, the process may be different in each of Arizona’s 15 counties, depending on the population and whether the prosecutor endorsed the measure.
Prosecutors can file a motion against action taken to delete records. Maricopa County Prosecutor has not issued an opinion on the deletion, but has announced that it will promptly drop all pending and unsubmitted marijuana possession charges based on the “will of the voters”.
Currently, Keenan said, all marijuana convictions are criminal offenses, which means convicts could lose their voting rights, access to social housing and food aid, and federal student loan eligibility. Having a criminal record also makes it harder to find a job.
The proposal does not specify the deletion process, but instead provides $ 4 million to fund it. Keenan expects nonprofits like him to apply for a portion of this money so they can provide forms, help convicts fill out, and take the petitions to court. The money could also fund legal positions to work on deletion cases.
Drug offenses, especially marijuana, disproportionately affect people of skin color, but Keenan said Proposition 207 won’t solve the racial disparity problem in the criminal justice system on its own.
“It will reduce the number of non-whites arrested for marijuana,” he said, “but those who deal with racial differences, arrest rates, and conviction rates must continue to work to make sure we address these issues.”
But he added, “It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
Optimism across the industry
Representatives of pharmacies and marijuana producers and processors are optimistic about the future of their business under the new law. For now, however, it’s a waiting game.
“You don’t just build an entire industry ecosystem overnight because a law is passed,” said Smoke Wallin, executive director of Vertical Wellness, which makes non-psychoactive CBD products.
Medical pharmacies will be the first to obtain licenses to sell marijuana. Wallen assumes that it will be more difficult for new pharmacies to find a location as cities and municipalities can ban pharmacies.
“It slows things down in terms of how quickly you see stores open,” Wallin said.
Molina said Mint Dispensaries plans to open new locations in Arizona and other states, but he doesn’t know when recreational marijuana sales will start.
According to azmarijuana.com, pharmacies can apply for a license for adult recreational use from January 19 to March 9. The Arizona Department of Health is expected to approve licenses within 60 days.
District attorney resistance could slow the process down further, Wallin said, but it is in Arizona’s best interests to accept legal marijuana.
“It is clearly a tremendous opportunity for the state,” he said.
Where the taxes go
The 16% excise tax will support Proposition 207 community colleges, mental health programs, maternal mortality programs, efforts to combat the disabled and other underfunded needs in the state. The tax is in addition to state and local sales taxes of approximately 9%.
Wallin said if city and county taxes get too high it will slow the shift from the illegal marijuana market to the regulated market.
“Colorado did a really good job of balancing that with competitiveness and they pretty much put the illicit market out of business,” Wallin said.
Colorado is among at least a dozen states, including California and Illinois, that have legalized recreational marijuana. Arizona was one of four states that legalized it for adults 21 and older on November 3rd.
Molina said selling recreational marijuana would be “the sauce on” an already lucrative business.
“The biggest thing is that we can spend more money in other states and continue our expansion into other states,” he said.
Molina does not expect the price of marijuana to rise, but predicted that an increase in demand could lead to a shortage that could last for a few months. To avoid this, pharmacies would likely offer fewer discounts and freebies.
Molina said his greatest concern is making sure that patients who need marijuana for their health are not left behind in their spare time. Mint Dispensaries will set up express lines and hire customer service agents to better serve customers with medical needs, he said.
“We don’t want someone who helped us to come here to feel left out or no longer wanted. We plan to take care of them and we have cherished them all along and plan to keep showing it off. “