Editor’s Note: Election results reported are projected, and subject to change. CBT/CD will update its election coverage as necessary to accommodate changing election results.
Despite legal battles and opposition from the state’s governor, Arizona voters approved adult-use cannabis legalization on Election Day by a 60-40 margin, according to unofficial election results reported by the New York Times at 11:19 p.m. ET.
“Voters took Arizona one step forward today,” said Jared Keenan, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Arizona. “As the state with the fifth highest incarceration rate in the country, the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana use will help Arizona reduce its bloated prison population while allowing those convicted of a past marijuana offense to have their record cleared. We will work to ensure that prosecutors across the state uphold the will of Arizona voters and end the practice of saddling people with a felony conviction for simple marijuana possession.”
The statutory measure, Prop. 207, allows adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, as well as grow up to six plants at home for personal use.
The Arizona Department of Health, which already regulates the state’s medical cannabis program, is now responsible for overseeing the adult-use industry, which must launch by June 1, 2021, under the initiative. The department will grant vertically integrated licenses to businesses to cultivate, process and sell adult-use cannabis, as well as license adult-use testing facilities. Arizona’s existing medical cannabis businesses will be considered “early applicants,” as will applicants seeking to locate their business in a county with fewer than two existing medical cannabis operators.
The initiative levies a 5.6% sales tax and a 16% excise tax on adult-use cannabis to fund state agencies for expenses related to implementing the program, and any remaining funds will be divided among community college districts, police and fire departments, the Highway User Fund and a newly created Justice Investment Fund, which would support grants and programs related to public health, expungement, nonprofit services and social equity efforts.
These efforts include provisions to expunge the criminal records of those previously convicted of low-level cannabis charges, and 26 business licenses have been designated for qualified social equity applicants from communities disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.
“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 Erik Altieri, executive director for NORML. “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. 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.”
Cannabis industry research firm Brightfield Group projects that an adult-use cannabis market in Arizona could see more than $288.6 million in sales in 2021, and nearly $857 million in sales the following year, not including medical sales projections. Brightfield makes these projections “for states that we think have a good chance of legalizing,” according to Brightfield Group’s Alyssa Jank.
Arizona’s road to legalization has been a rocky one. In 2016, voters narrowly defeated another cannabis legalization initiative, Prop. 205, by a margin of 51 to 49.
“After such a narrow and disheartening loss in 2016, it is a great relief that cannabis is finally on its way to being regulated for adults in Arizona,” said Morgan Fox, media relations director and committee manager at the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “From job creation, improved public safety and tax revenue, to the roughly 15,000 people who will no longer be charged with felonies for simple possession every year in Arizona, this measure is a big win for the state.”
To qualify Prop. 207 for this year’s ballot, activists fought against the COVID-19 pandemic, legal disputes and even the vocal opposition of Gov. Doug Ducey, who called the measure “a bad idea based on false promises,” according to a Tucson.com report.
Smart and Safe Arizona, the group behind Prop. 207, had to gather roughly 238,000 signatures to qualify the measure for this year’s ballot.
The lawsuit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, challenged the initiative’s 100-word description, alleging that it misled people into signing the petition to put the measure before voters and that it was not legally fit for a public vote.
In early August, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith rejected these claims, ruling that the issue could appear on the ballot.
Despite the setbacks, Arizona has now joined the ranks of roughly a dozen other states that have legalized cannabis for adult use.
“Just four years after legalization was narrowly defeated, voters in Arizona turned out to send a clear message that they support marijuana legalization,” said Steve Hawkins, executive director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “Following this victory, adults will no longer be treated as criminals for using a substance that is safer than alcohol and will be able to access it from safe and regulated businesses."