Arizona Voters Approve Marijuana Legalization

The initiative makes Arizona the 13th state to allow recreational use.


Arizona voters, who narrowly approved medical marijuana in 2010 but rejected general legalization in 2016, tonight passed an initiative that allows recreational use. With just 6 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press has declared a win for Proposition 207, currently favored by 60 percent of voters.

Arizona is the 13th state to legalize recreational use, joining New Jersey, where voters approved legalization today, and 11 states where cannabis was already legal. Proposition 207 extends a contiguous cannabis-friendly zone in the West that includes Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada. Recreational use is also legal northeast of Arizona in Colorado, while Utah and New Mexico—Arizona's neighbors to the north and east, respectively—allow only medical use.

Along with other prominent Republicans, Gov. Doug Ducey opposed Proposition 207, calling it "a bad deal based on false promises." But in five polls conducted from mid-May to mid-October, the initiative was favored by 56 percent of voters on average. Supporters of legalization, who were funded largely by medical marijuana businesses, outspent opponents by nearly 10 to 1.

Proposition 207 legalizes recreational use by adults 21 or older and charges the state Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with writing regulations for commercial production and distribution. It also allows adults to grow up to six plants at home for personal use. The public possession limit is one ounce (five grams for concentrates), although home growers may possess whatever their plants produce at their residences. They are also allowed to transfer up to an ounce at a time "without remuneration" to other adults, as long as the transfers are not "advertised or promoted."

Possessing less than two pounds of marijuana (except for approved medical use) was previously treated as a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to two years in prison, although first-time offenders were eligible for conditional release, which eliminated their criminal records after completion of probation. Under Proposition 207, possessing more than an ounce but less than two and a half ounces is a petty offense, punishable by a maximum fine of $300 and no jail time. People younger than 21 caught with an ounce or less are subject to a $100 fine for a first offense; a second violation is a petty offense, and a third violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor. A person who "smokes marijuana in a public place or open space" (language that seems to allow consumption of edibles) is guilty of a petty offense.

Medical marijuana producers and dispensaries will receive priority as HHS awards recreational licenses. Proposition 207 also creates a Social Equity Ownership Program that favors applicants from "communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws."

The application period for "early applicants" (either existing dispensaries or newcomers in counties with no more than one dispensary) is January 19 through March 9. HHS is required to act on those applications within 60 days, after which it is supposed to allocate additional licenses by "random selection."

The initiative imposes a 16 percent tax on retail marijuana sales, on top of standard sales taxes (a 5.6 percent state tax, plus local levies that raise the total to as much as 11.2 percent). Local governments will receive some of the tax revenue, although they are also free to ban cannabusinesses within their jurisdictions.

Proposition 207 changes the legal definition of driving under the influence to require evidence of impairment. The previous rule made drivers (except for qualified medical marijuana patients) automatically guilty of DUI if they had any amount of THC or its inactive metabolites in their blood, regardless of whether they were actually impaired.

Beginning July 21, 2021, Arizonans convicted of certain marijuana offenses can petition for expungement of their records.