The Arizona Department of Health Services gave the go-ahead last week for recreational cannabis sales to begin, letting dispensary owners know adult-use recreational sales can move forward as soon as licenses are approved and dispensaries are set up to handle both aspects of the market.
Applications for adult-use sales began on Jan. 19, but were restricted to existing medical marijuana establishments that qualified for early applications. The language of Proposition 207 that legalized cannabis use for adults over the age of 21 gave AZDHS two months to review and approve applications. As of Wednesday, Jan. 21, there were 62 applications for so-called “dual-licenses.”
Most cannabis advocates and those following the process expected sales to begin in late-March or early April, but with last week’s announcement, the door has opened for an accelerated timetable.
But it might not be so easy for most dispensary operators, as there are several barriers to immediately opening up adult-use sales, not the least of which is the current state of the coronavirus pandemic still raging through the state.
Aside from that, some dispensaries might run into space and inventory issues and will need to have new operating procedures and dual point of sales systems to deal with differing tax rates and cost structures.
There is also a looming staffing shortage, as dispensary employees will now have to have multiple certifications to work in the industry.
“For us, it’s COVID—public and employee safety,” said Brian Warde, co-owner and CEO of Prime Leaf in Tucson. “Realistically you could have 150 people in line and might see over 1,000-plus patients a day most the days.”
Just from the standpoint of current patient patronage, that means to properly social distance Prime Leaf would need the equivalent of three football fields of space to accommodate the patient load. Warde says he is also waiting for inoculations for his employees that realistically won’t happen before March.
“Managing the inventory and workflow to ensure medical patients don’t run out of what they need, is also a big consideration,” he said. “We want to give patients what they have come to expect, and not allow the adult-use market to alter our patients’ experience. So slow rolling it to make sure we are in the best possible position to meet everyone’s expectations.”
PHOENIX – Recreational use of marijuana will soon be legal in Arizona, thanks to Proposition 207’s easy passage, but economic and logistical hurdles remain before Arizonans will feel the effects.
The measure – approved by more than 60% of voters in unofficial results from Nov. 3 – decriminalizes recreational marijuana use and possession for those 21 or older; allows minor, nonviolent marijuana offenders to petition to have their criminal records expunged; and imposes an excise tax to support underfunded programs across the state.
Once the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office certifies the proposition, which is expected to happen in December, the use and possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana will be legal except in public spaces. Despite the law’s passage, however, marijuana possession, distribution and use remain federal crimes.
Dispensaries and growers, which have become a familiar presence in Arizona since voters narrowly approved marijuana for medical use in 2010, will have to wait for state approval to sell marijuana for recreational uses. Application for state licenses is expected to open in January, and organizers of Proposition 207 are predicting an April 5 launch for recreational sales.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of very curious people that want to walk into the dispensary because they weren’t able to do that before,” said Raul Molina, chief operations officer at the Mint Dispensary in Tempe.
A key element of Proposition 207 is the opportunity to expunge a criminal record, which can impede employment, nullify the right to vote and harm reputations.
Proposition 207 is the first voter measure in Arizona that offers expungement, according to Jared Keenan, a senior staff attorney at American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. But the process may differ in each of Arizona’s 15 counties, depending on the population and whether the county attorney supported the measure.
Prosecutors can petition against moves to expunge records. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has not given a stance on expungement but has announced it will immediately drop all pending and unfiled charges of marijuana possession based on “the will of the voters.”
Currently, Keenan said, all marijuana convictions are felonies, which means convicts could lose their right to vote, their access to public housing and food assistance, and their eligibility for federal student loans. A criminal record also makes it harder to get a job.
LOS ANGELES – California’s record wildfire season has left many cannabis growers concerned about Croptober – the primary harvest season for marijuana sold in California, where it’s legally consumed.
As fires continue burning into the record book, California growers – whose operations are federally illegal and therefore difficult to insure – are demanding protections for their billion-dollar industry.
Cannabis farms, as well as wineries, agricultural farms, have been hard hit by the wide range of California fires, and the toll faced by cannabis farms is among the worst.
Since January, California has had more than 9,177 wildfires burning more than 4.1 million acres, which is more than double the old record in 2018, according to Cal Fire.
High in the hills overlooking the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, Kila Peterson and her daughter, Keala Peterson, are partners on Sweet Creek Farm, a small family-owned and licensed cannabis farm that also grows avocados and sweet bananas.
The cannabis venture started more than 10 years ago when Kila began growing it to produce CBD for her father, who had cancer. The mother-daughter approach is rooted in sustainability; their techniques include a solar-powered irrigation system fed by rainwater catchment and pollinator-friendly companion flowers, according to the farm’s website.
WASHINGTON – A Navajo Nation probe of a controversial, Navajo-owned hemp operation has turned into a federal investigation into reports of marijuana production, interstate drug trafficking and violations of labor and child labor laws.
The FBI said Monday it had executed search warrants “in the area of Shiprock” in an operation that included nine federal agencies as well as state, tribal and local agencies from at least three states. It released few other details.
But the Navajo Nation Department of Justice said the search warrants targeted “suspected illegal marijuana farming” at the Navajo Gold hemp farming operation run by Dineh Benally, former president of the nation’s San Juan River Farm Board.
“Dineh Benally and his investors sought to take advantage of what they believed to be a jurisdictional gap on the Navajo Nation that would allow them to operate outside the law,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement Tuesday.
“They did not count on the diligence or effectiveness of the Navajo Nation Department of Justice to be able to enforce our own laws through our own courts,” Nez’s statement said.
Tuesday night, Arizonans joined four other states to pass some form of cannabis
legalization, when citizens voted in favor of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, Prop
207, which legalized the use of marijuana for persons over the age of 21.
Citizens of Arizona joined with voters in New Jersey, Montana and South Dakota to approve measures legalizing recreational marijuana, while Mississippi approved the use of medical marijuana for people with “debilitating conditions.”
Smart and Safe passed, with nearly 60 percent voting in favor. As of Thursday, Nov. 5, the measure was leading In Maricopa County by nearly 360,000 votes and in Pima County, it was leading by more than 120,000 votes.
“It appears the vast majority of Arizonans and Americans admit the War on Drugs has been a complete failure,” said Steve White, founder and CEO of Harvest Enterprises, Inc., which supported the measure with nearly $1.5 million in donations. “When you put a significant amount of time and money into the hands of other people, it’s scary. I’m thankful that 60 percent of Arizonans made the right choice.”
Once the final votes are certified, marijuana possession for persons over the age of 21 will be legal, although the rules regulating commercial retail likely won’t be in place before March and expungement of low-level marijuana-related convictions will begin in July. A 16 percent excise tax will be imposed the sale on recreational cannabis, which is expected to generate $250 million in annual revenues to be dispersed for programs including enforcement, school funding and administration of the program through the Arizona Department of Health Services.
AZDHS, or any successor agency to that department, will oversee the medical marijuana program and has been given the task of writing policy within the guidelines of the measure.
Under the new law, individuals can grow up to six plants for personal use, with severe penalties for anyone caught selling cannabis on the black market.
Municipalities will also have control over whether there are recreational retail shops within their jurisdictions, although they are not allowed to ban sales where a medical marijuana dispensary exists.
On Oct. 26, the Town of Sahuarita pre-emptively set restrictions in place, prohibiting cannabis on public property—which is already part of the law—prohibiting recreational retail sales with the exception of a “dual licensee” operating out of a shared location, as well as banning future testing facilities that are expected in response to a state testing mandate that started on Nov. 1, 2020.
Hana Meds is the sole dispensary in Sahuarita, so the restriction would allow that dispensary to open a recreational retail shop in the same location should it receive a dual license from the state in 2021.
With the election just days away, Cronkite News is taking a closer look at some of the measures on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Four years after Arizona voters rejected legalizing recreational marijuana, the issue is back, appearing on November’s ballot as Proposition 207.
Eleven states have legalized recreational marijuana. Arizona joins three others – Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota – with the question on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, would legally allow people 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, although smoking it in public places and open spaces would be prohibited. Arizonans would be allowed to grow up to six plants in their personal residences, and anyone arrested for, charged with or convicted of less serious marijuana-related offenses would be allowed to petition to have their criminal records expunged beginning July 21, 2021. Those offenses include possession of 2.5 ounces of marijuana or less and possessing paraphernalia used to smoke marijuana.