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Arizona recreational marijuana vote – what does it mean?

Arizona recently voted to change its laws on marijuana use. Previously, it was legal only for medical purposes and you needed to have a valid patient card from the Arizona medical board.

But the Arizona vote on recreational marijuana in 2020 – otherwise known as Proposition 207 – means that state law will be changed in the near future. The new laws will allow adults to possess and even cultivate small quantities of marijuana for recreational as well as medical purposes.

The vote is good news for people incarcerated for minor marijuana offenses and those with previous offenses on their records too. The proposed Arizona marijuana legislation would make it possible for these offenses to be expunged.

It’s also good news for the state’s tax coffers. Because the question posited in the vote added a tax clause which is expected to see marijuana users in Arizona raise something in the order of $300 million for the state every year.

If you are wondering what else you need to know about the recreational vote in Arizona for marijuana, here’s a good place to get started:

When will Arizona vote on marijuana legalization?

The vote has already happened! At the same time as millions of Arizonans voted in the 2020 Presidential Election, they also voted “yes” or “no” on two other questions:

  1. One related to the proper funding of teaching in the state. The question proposed taxing Arizona’s collection of very wealthy tax payers with the goal of “creating a new fund to direct the additional revenue to hiring and increasing salaries for teachers and other non-administrative support personnel, career training and higher education pathway programs for high school students”. A very worthy goal indeed – and one which passed confidently.
  2. The second question related to marijuana. Voters were asked whether they approved legalizing cannabis for small-scale recreational purposes, taxing it, and a range of other sensible linked legislation to change the way law enforcement, the judiciary, and Arizona society as a whole treats marijuana offenses.

gavel on a desk

Arizona marijuana vote results

The Arizona vote on marijuana came back with a solid 60% to 40% in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes.

Such a solid victory for Proposition 207 is in keeping with the similar votes on marijuana legalization which took place in several other US states at the same time.

The ongoing spread and sensible legalization of small quantities of marijuana for recreational purposes across the United States looks set to continue. Some estimates say that public opinion towards cannabis is trending towards the positive in most parts of the US at an approximate rate of 1% per year.

This trend seems to be even faster in Arizona. Back in 2016, another vote on cannabis legalization – Proposition 205 – failed by the narrowest of margins with just over 50% saying no. Now, only four years later, the verdict is significantly different.

What does Arizona marijuana legalization mean?

The measures laid out in Proposition 207 are fairly extensive. The law will, according to the voting card which millions of Arizonans agreed to:

  • “Allow limited marijuana possession, use, and cultivation by adults 21 or older”
  • “Amend criminal penalties for marijuana possession”
  • “Ban smoking marijuana in public places”
  • “Impose a 16% excise tax on marijuana sales to fund public programs”
  • “Authorize state/ local regulation of marijuana licensees”
  • “Allow expungement of marijuana offenses”

This is a comprehensive shake-up of the way that Arizona treats marijuana, marijuana users and patients, and the marijuana industry as a whole involving broad areas such as:

1) Personal use and cultivation

If you’re over 21 years of age in Arizona, you will soon be able to “use, possess, or transfer” one ounce or less of cannabis and cultivate up to six plants at your primary residence for personal use.

This effectively decriminalizes cannabis, as one ounce of marijuana is more than enough for even a patient who uses marijuana heavily for pain relief to have on their person at one time.

2) Banning smoking in public

Even most users of marijuana would probably say that smoking it in public places and open spaces is a little rude when there are other people around to inhale your second-hand smoke.

Even if they don’t, the ability to use marijuana safely – and without risk of prosecution – in their own homes and to carry small quantities around safely as a trade off for not doing so is one that most seem to agree is worth making.

3) Retail sale of marijuana (and taxing of it)

The State of Arizona will create a number of new retail licenses to allow new retailers to enter the cannabis industry. These licenses will allow the licensees to create retail establishments which sell cannabis and cannabis products.

In addition, Proposition 207 adds a 16% tax on marijuana sales. That’s a lot of tax money which the state can soon use in beneficial ways.

Some questions still remain, of course. In the main, these are related to ensuring that these licenses are distributed fairly – with at least a clear eye on giving opportunities to communities where previous harsh cannabis legalization and enforcement has fallen disproportionately.

4) Use the tax money created for public safety and health programs

The tax money created by marijuana’s legalization in Arizona will be used to fund:

  • Community colleges
  • Infrastructure projects
  • Public safety and public health programs

5) Amending marijuana criminal classifications

Marijuana should not be in the same legal classification as dangerous drugs. The state now recognizes this, and Prop 207 includes measures which change the classifications and penalties for marijuana possession and use.

Arizonan courts will also be allowed to “vacate and expunge certain marijuana arrests, charges, adjudications, convictions, or sentences”.

Again, this means that those who have a criminal record for very minor cannabis offenses in their past will no longer be held back by them.

cannabis leaf on a black background

Why did voters vote no on marijuana in Arizona poll?

Proposition 207 did not pass unanimously. 40% of voters disagreed with at least some part of the wide-ranging new legislation proposed.

Campaigning groups – such as the Arizonans for Health and Public Safety group, largely funded by a small minority of wealthy Arizonans – urged voters to say “no” on Prop 207 for a variety of reasons.

Many of their objections are based on theories which have long since been debunked by research or by other regions or countries which have previously legalized marijuana. These reasons included questions about:

1) Young people and access to marijuana?

Legalizing cannabis would suddenly provide young people with access to marijuana, some of Prop 207’s opponents have argued.

However, research in many countries and regions which have already legalized cannabis have not borne out beliefs that numbers of young people using marijuana will suddenly skyrocket in areas passing legalization legislation.

In fact, some research seems to suggest that not only does decriminalization remove a great deal of cannabis’s “glamour” and appeal to young people, it may allow them to adjust to the idea that while cannabis isn’t dangerous, it also shouldn’t ever be over-used or indulged in. Places such as Amsterdam in Holland certainly do not have markedly high levels of young people who use cannabis to excess.

2) Dangerous driving?

You should never drive under the influence of cannabis. But, just like those who drive under the influence of alcohol, there are those who will wrongly believe that they are “safe” to do so.

Again, statistics from regions and countries which have already legalized cannabis do not show sudden spikes in numbers of people driving under the influence of cannabis.

While public education about how to drive safely is always important, someone who was previously not willing to try marijuana recreationally because it was illegal is not likely to be the kind of person who will then be willing to drive under the influence.

3) A gateway to dangerous drugs?

Many opponents of marijuana legalization believe that cannabis is a gateway to dangerous drugs. Once more, this is not backed by any scientific evidence.

In particular, by bringing marijuana “out of the shadows” and into clearly designated retail stores and places where it can be seen and – to a degree – monitored, use becomes all the safer for everyone concerned.

Plus, this will dramatically reduce the amount of time law enforcement agencies in Arizona spend on minor drugs cases. This time can now be more effectively spent on catching the people who do sell dangerous drugs.

The future of marijuana in Arizona

The future of marijuana in Arizona looks brighter – for regular Arizonans as well as the marijuana industry in the state. There are a huge number of benefits of bringing cannabis purchasing and use into the mainstream:

To begin with, the state will not only be able to tax marijuana sales and use that tax money for good works, they will also be able to allow law enforcement officers to concentrate on actually dangerous criminals. That’s on top of expunging minor offenses from the records of large numbers of Arizonans who find their life unfairly restricted by them.

Of course, the road ahead for Arizona marijuana legalization not without challenges. We looked into some of the difficulties of putting Prop 207 into place in another of our articles. The most important areas of concern involve making sure that it is not made needlessly difficult for now-innocent people to have their records expunged and that new retail licenses are distributed fairly.

But the public support for the new measures is clearly there. Now it’s a case of putting them into place as they were intended to be.

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