Will Arizona Legalize Recreational Marijuana?

Arizona marijuana silouette

Arizona is one of the many states that has legalized medical marijuana in the last 10 years. A logical conclusion is that Arizona will follow suit and legalize marijuana recreationally in the future. The state, however, has a record of amending and rejecting measures and a problem getting officials to agree on the future of Arizona marijuana. Consent for medical marijuana measures still has its ups and downs with officials going back and forth on measures.

After the head of the Department of Justice, Jeffery Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, those in favor took a step back to see how his decisions would affect the current laws. The memo protected medical marijuana patients and dispensaries from federal prosecutions and some worry whether or not Sessions would take it a step further and rescind all legalization. The truth is, Sessions really doesn't have the authority to take it to the next level.

For Arizona, the hope of legalization has fluctuated through the last decade. It's not looking great for the state. Still, supporters are not backing down.

When Two Parties Combine

The latest measure this year, the House Concurrent Resolution 2037, had bipartisan sponsorship led by Rep. Todd Clodfelter (R), and Rep. Mark Cardenas (D). This initiative allows an adult over the age of 21 to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants. The measure is not without compromise. Even though it doesn't limit those protected under the Medical Marijuana Act, it still allows local governments to prohibit marijuana businesses in their communities. It also does not prohibit an employer’s ability to have policies banning the use of marijuana by employees.

The original bill was rejected at the statehouse in late March.

cannabis flower and leaves in a hand

Clodfelter, representing District 10, and Cardenas, representing District 19 of the Arizona House of Representatives, are preparing to put an updated version of bill on the 2019 ballot. Since there is such a divide, Clodfelter wants to hold meetings to hear all sides of the fight. The bill itself would be up to the people and not the state.

It helps that the newest attempt has both Democratic and Republican support. Proposing Officials would benefit from a positive outcome of this measure. Clodfelter, who took his current position in 2016, focuses on tax structure, and local and startup businesses. Cardenas, who filled his seat in 2013, is a major backer of healthcare reform. He is currently running for State Treasurer.

It’s Happened Before

In 2014, initiative group Safer Arizona created a measure pushing for the right to grow, harvest, and possess marijuana. It failed, missing a good portion of the signature requirements. Oddly, a lot of the push-back was from the marijuana industry. The measure would have redirected marijuana licenses to the Arizona Department of Health than to a revenue-related department. Their concerns focused on the possibility of changes in the current cannabis business models.

Arizona Marijuana Initiatives

Safer Arizona is back for another shot. The chairman, Dave Wisniewski refers to Proposition 205, the initiative led by Chairman J.P. Holyoak in 2016, as flawed. Holyoak's vision was to allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, five grams of concentrated resin, and six live plants per legal adult with a maximum of 12 per household. It would also have created a system of retail stores. It was rejected 52-48.

Safer Arizona launched the Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative. It allows possession of marijuana for adults 21 and older. It would also forbid local jurisdictions from prohibiting marijuana businesses. The initiative intends to decriminalize major marijuana offenses and replace them with fines and misdemeanors.

saguaro cactus in sunset

The House Concurrent Resolution 2037 needs enough signatures by July 5 to qualify. Valid signatures would include, 150,642 signatures for the initiated state statutes, 75,321 for the veto referendum, and 225,963 to the initiated constitutional amendment. If recreational marijuana is legalized, the hope is to use the funds from taxes to help with the education system and bring new businesses and jobs.

Initiative to Re-Legalize Marijuana is also competing to be put on the ballot. This measure, filed March 7, 2017 by Chairman Mickey Jones, would make marijuana 100 percent legal. It would provide complete pardons for those with marijuana-related convictions. Employers would be civilly punished for denying employment based on marijuana use, claiming it violates a person's rights. A similar initiative, Initiative to Legalize All Drugs, would decriminalize marijuana, heroin, LSD, cocaine, and peyote.

Medical Marijuana

Proposition 203 is a proposal allowing the legalization of medical marijuana that passed in 2010. It mandates that a qualified medical marijuana patient must be registered by the Department of Health Services. The bill barely passed with only 50 percent majority of the votes. While those with approved debilitating conditions qualify for a medical card, others, with what are considered minor illnesses, cannot be approved.

Currently, they are allowed to carry up to two and a half ounces of marijuana for two weeks. This includes all forms. If you are caught with marijuana without a medical card, you could be charged with a felony. Charges start as a Class 6, meaning the possibility of one year in prison.

Medical Marijuana Amended

Sanctions on medical marijuana include allowing employers to fire employees by reasonable hearsay. In 2015, the HB2346 bill passed stating nothing requires a provider to supply worker's compensation and does not have to reimburse for medical marijuana costs. The choice falls back on employers as to whether or not they will carry the measure out. In 2017, the Department of Child Services blocked medical marijuana patients from becoming foster parents.

Prop. 203 was restricted by many regulations. Since its legalization, there have been 21 separate bills to limit medical marijuana. In 2011, Jan Brewer, Former Governor of Arizona filed a federal lawsuit claiming that medical marijuana legalization conflicted with the federal law. While her case was dismissed, the timeline shows a dim view of what's to come.

As for continuing the fight for medical marijuana, The Marijuana Dispensary Act includes provisions to establish a $10 fee for a medical marijuana card and will approve additional medical conditions. Places like Nature’s Medicines, a non-profit dispensary, is hoping that it could supply patients in need with cards at reasonable prices. This act will make it possible for out-of-state cardholders to obtain medical marijuana from a licensed Arizona dispensary.

Arizona marijuana in sunset

Arizona residents have more of a fight on their hands than most states that are considering legalization. Medical marijuana is still being amended against its progress. The current governor, Doug Ducey opposes the idea of legalized marijuana and has been vocal about his rejections.

Federal prosecutors, supported by the DEA, could still declare their power to amend all legalization at any time. However, in recent months, President Donald Trump sided with legalization, stating he would not get in the way of state laws. He also would help find a solution to the divide between federal and state regulations. It seems marijuana supporters have the backing they need, however, the state is having a hard time biting the bullet.


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