Smoking the Opposition: Az 1 of 5 States to OK Pot Initiatives in 2020

On election night 2020 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 recreational 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% voting in favor. As of Monday, Nov. 9, the measure was leading in Maricopa County by nearly 422,000 votes and in Pima County, it was leading by more than 129,000 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% 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% excise tax will be imposed on the sale of recreational cannabis, which is expected to generate $250 million in annual revenues to be dispersed for programs including law 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 Wednesday, Nov. 4, the Town Council of Oro Valley unanimously approved an emergency declaration to update the town's policies regarding recreational use and sales within its jurisdiction.

The declaration bans single-use marijuana establishments, marijuana sales on town property, use of the drug in public places and open spaces (such as town parks). It also bans facilities that test the potency or contamination and door-to-door sales.

Prop 207 restricts jurisdictions from applying stricter standards on recreational marijuana than what's currently applied to medical marijuana.

The current system for those with MMJ certifications will remain in place for cardholders, who can possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana with no restrictions on THC content in edibles.

"We are ecstatic to see Arizona enter the 21st century by the passage of Proposition 207," said Southern Arizona NORML Executive Director Mike Robinette. "The prohibition of marijuana has had an incredibly deleterious effect on the lives of countless Arizonans and has disproportionately affected our communities of color. Proposition 207 rights these historic wrongs and allows Arizonan adults to fully exercise their freedom to consume marijuana responsibly without any fear of prosecution. The state-controlled market created by Proposition 207 will serve to defund the illicit market in Arizona and curtail drug cartel activity while generating up to $300 million dollars a year in new revenue for our state."

But not everyone is happy with the results of the election.

In a statement released late Tuesday, Nov. 3, Lisa James, chair of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, called the passage of 207 a "deceit-propelled marijuana measure" claiming an "unelected group of wealthy marijuana insiders wrote the rules for their new industry and almost single-handedly financed the proposition with one goal in mind; they get rich while Arizonans pay the price."

"It is a sad day, not just because Arizona, especially Arizona's children, will suffer the consequences of legalizing recreational marijuana—but also because Prop 207 was borne out of deceit and self-interest. The marijuana industry misled voters in order to pass this self-serving measure."

James further stated that "going forward, parents especially must be on guard to protect their children from the dangers of widespread availability of marijuana...The successful passage of Prop 207 sends a dangerous message to others who would exploit Arizona voters in an effort to line their own pockets. Prop 207 may have won, but Arizonans lost."

In 2016, Proposition 205, the Taxation and Regulation of Marijuana Act, lost by a margin of 51% to 49%. With the passage of Smart and Safe, Arizona joins 15 states, two territories and Washington, D.C., which have all legalized marijuana for recreational use, while 34 states and two more territories allow medical marijuana.

Managing Editor Austin Counts contributed to this report.

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