A Closer Look at Arizona’s Marijuana Laws


Dec. 31 2019, Published 4:09 p.m. ET

Arizona is one US state with strong opposition to marijuana legalization. It legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2010 after many failed initiatives. The recreational use of cannabis is still not legal in the state. However, an initiative to legalize recreational cannabis will be on the 2020 ballot, and this will decide the fate of the substance there. Here’s all you need to know about Arizona’s marijuana laws.

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Timeline of marijuana laws in Arizona

The medical use of cannabis became legal in Arizona only in 2010. However, the state faced several propositions before that. In 1996, an initiative was passed that allowed doctors to prescribe medical cannabis. This proposition, called Proposition 200, was approved with a 65% vote. However, it became ineffective because of its conflict with federal law. Following this, another initiative to decriminalize recreational cannabis was proposed in 2002. The initiative, Proposition 203, received only 42.7% support. It would have allowed for the possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis products.

After these failed attempts, the state finally legalized medical marijuana through Proposition 203 in 2010. The initiative passed with just 50.1% of the vote. It allows for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis products with a doctor’s prescription. Following its success with medical cannabis, the state pursued another initiative to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016. This initiative received only 48.7% of the vote and failed.

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Medical marijuana laws

Proposition 203, which legalized medical cannabis, received 50.1% support from voters. The initiative permits patients to possess cannabis up to 2.5 ounces with a doctor’s prescription. This initiative doesn’t permit the cultivation of cannabis by patients unless they live more than 25 miles away from a medical cannabis dispensary. The state has also limited the dispensary count to 124. This initiative received strong opposition from former Attorney General Terry Goddard, former Governor Jan Brewer, other politicians, sheriffs, and prosecutors. Even after the legalization of Proposition 203, opposers questioned some of its provisions.

Medical marijuana cards

As per Arizona marijuana laws, patients should apply for a medical marijuana card. This card can cost patients $150—or only $75 if they buy it using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamps. The patient card is valid for two years. After that, it should be renewed. The patient must be at least 18 years old to apply for a medical marijuana card. (Minors should have a legal guardian as a registered caregiver.) To apply for a medical marijuana card, the patient should have a valid driver’s license from Arizona or an Arizona ID. Patients must have a residence in Arizona and should fall under at least one of the qualifying conditions.

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Prescription process

To get a medical marijuana card, patients should get approval from a doctor stating their qualifying conditions. An appointment with a doctor can cost anywhere between $75 and $150. A doctor’s approval is mandatory any time a patient applies for a card—even for renewals.

Once a doctor approves the requirement of medical cannabis for a patient, he or she can approve the medical marijuana card. The doctor will submit the necessary documents to the Arizona Department of Health Services through its website. This action concludes the process, and the patient should get his or her state medical marijuana card in the mail in less than ten business days. If the doctor does not submit the documents, it’s the patients’ responsibility to get a signed certificate and proceed with the process. The patient can also check on his or her medical marijuana status on the Arizona Department of Health Services’ website.

Qualifying conditions for a prescription are cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Other qualifying medical conditions include cachexia, chronic pain due to arthritis or migraines, severe nausea, seizures, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, and severe muscle spasms.

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Cannabis possession and dispensaries

As per the initiative, a patient with a medical marijuana card can legally use or possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis products for a 14-day period. The initiative does not allow patients or caregivers to cultivate their own cannabis plants. However, there is one exception to this. Patients living at least 25 miles away from cannabis dispensaries can cultivate their own cannabis plants. However, the limit stands at 12 plants per patient. The initiative also limits the dispensary count in the state to 124. Some of the major dispensaries in the state are Curaleaf, MedMen, Arizona Natural, Nirvana Center, Harvest HoC, and GreenPharms.

Medical marijuana program in Arizona

Arizona currently has 215,104 registered marijuana patients. This number has been steadily rising since the start of 2019. The registered user count has increased by at least 14% since the start of 2019, and expectations remain high. The majority of these patients are qualified to use marijuana due to chronic or severe pain.

According to a report released by Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics, Arizona recorded a $705 million profit from cannabis sales in 2019. This amount implies that despite its legalizing only medical marijuana, the state’s cannabis profits are still the eighth highest in the US. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, almost half of all medical cannabis patients are between the ages of 18 and 40. This statistic is a good sign, as it suggests the cannabis industry will have buyers for the next couple of decades.

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Proposition 205: A failed recreational marijuana initiative

After the successful launch of the medical marijuana program, the state tried an initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2016. The provisions of the initiative allowed for the possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis for adults aged 18 and older. People could also cultivate up to six cannabis plants for their personal use. The initiative’s provisions also required the government to set up a distribution and tax system. The proceeds after expenses would be used to fund public schools and other substance-abuse programs.

This initiative received strong opposition. Governor Doug Ducey started a campaign and collected more than $6 million to defeat it. Some of the top sponsors for the defeat campaign were the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Discount Tire, Sheldon Adelson, and Insys Therapeutics. Top sponsors that supported the initiative included Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. The initiative failed with just 48.7% of the vote.

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Recreational marijuana in 2020

Even though the state rejected a recent recreational marijuana legalization initiative, it has another chance to legalize it at the end of next year. Arizona is presenting an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana on the 2020 ballot. Medical cannabis companies in the state are currently striving to pass the initiative. The “Same and Safe Arizona” proposal aims to allow for the use and possession of recreational cannabis by adults in the state.

Top cannabis dispensary chains Curaleaf Holdings, MedMen, and Harvest Health are working on increasing the funds for the campaign. To pass the initiative on the 2020 ballot, advocates must obtain valid signatures from 237,645 people. These signatures must be collected before July 2.

The Smart and Safe Arizona Act

  • The act aims to legalize the sale, possession, and use of up to 1 ounce of cannabis. Of this amount, a person can hold 5 grams of concentrates.
  • Six cannabis plants would be allowed per individual, with 12 cannabis plants allowed per household.
  • The act aims to raise $3 billion to fund community colleges, public health and safety programs, roads, and highways.
  • It also prohibits smoking marijuana in public places.
  • The government will levy a 16% excise tax for cannabis products. This revenue will also be used to fund substance abuse treatment, programs for mental health, suicide prevention, and reinvestment projects.
  • The act aims to expunge low-level marijuana crimes.
  • It also aims to create a strong job market in Arizona.
  • Edibles products’ THC levels will be limited to containing only 10 milligrams.

Will Arizona legalize recreational marijuana?

The state has a strong opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana due to decades of stigma surrounding marijuana use. Pharmaceutical companies were the top sponsors of defeating the legalization initiative in 2016. However, the public’s view of legalization is changing for the better. As many states have already legalized recreational cannabis, the stigma around its usage is reducing.

According to OH Predictive Insights polls, 50% of respondents support the legalization of recreational marijuana. In contrast, 40% are against it, and the rest remain undecided. The results imply that Arizonans are more supportive of recreational marijuana legalization than they were a few years ago. Some voters, such as women, the older generation, and Republicans, are against legalization. But supporters still have time to campaign and gather more support.


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