The legal sale of recreational marijuana in Arizona has begun, a once unthinkable step in the former conservative stronghold that joins 14 other states that have widely legalized marijuana.
The State Health Services Department announced Friday that it had approved 86 licenses in nine of the state's 15 counties under the terms of the marijuana legalization measure passed by voters in November. Most of the licenses went to existing medical marijuana pharmacies that can sell weed right away.
"It's an exciting step for those who want to participate in that program," said Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona's health director, on Friday.
Under the terms of Proposition 207, people 21 and older can grow their own plants and legally have up to 28 grams of marijuana or a smaller amount of “concentrates” such as hash. Holding between 1 ounce and 2.5 ounces (70 grams) is a minor offense with a fine of up to $ 300.
The march towards decriminalization in Sun Belt state has been a long one. Approval of the legalization measure came four years after Arizona voters narrowly rejected a similar proposal, even though medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2010.
The initiative met fierce opposition from Republican Governor Doug Ducey and GOP leaders in the state legislature, but 60% of the state's voters approved it in November's election.
The vote on marijuana reflected larger trends in the historic election that saw Democrat Joe Biden turn the old Republican state, where political giants include five-year conservative Senator Barry Goldwater and the late GOP Senator John McCain.
Changing demographics, including a burgeoning Latino population and a flood of new residents, have made the state more friendly to Democrats.
The recreational pot measure was backed by advocates of the legal marijuana industry and proponents of criminal justice reform, who argued that the state's strict marijuana laws were out of step with the nation. Arizona was the only state in the country that still allowed a felony charge for initial possession of small amounts of marijuana, although most of the cases were prosecuted as lower-level felonies.
The vast majority of permits issued Friday were in Maricopa County, the state's largest county where Phoenix and its suburbs reside. Other counties with dispensaries now allowed to sell recreational weed include Cochise, Coconino, Gila, Pima, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma counties.
Voters in New Jersey, South Dakota, and Montana also agreed to make the possession of recreational marijuana legal last November.
Arizona prosecutors dropped thousands of cases of marijuana possession after the measure was approved. Possession in the state became technically legal when the election results were certified on Nov. 30, but there was no authorized way to purchase it without a medical marijuana card.
Voters dealt another blow to Republicans in control of the state's levers of power in November when they approved a new tax on high earners to boost education funding, a move that followed years of GOP tax cuts and the underfunding of public schools.
Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Interested in Hemp?
Receive automatic alerts on this topic.