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Proposition 207: Recreational Cannabis Legalization in Arizona

It’s that time of year again. The weather is getting cooler (maybe), the leaves are changing (probably not), and it’s election season (yay?). This November, however, Arizonans have passed Proposition 207. I did a little research to see what this might mean for the Arizona cannabis industry. What exactly is the bill proposing? How might it affect the medical cannabis industry that’s already been established in the state? Here’s what I found.

What is Prop 207

First things first, what is Prop 207? Prop 207 enacts the “Smart and Safe Arizona Act”, legalizing the possession, use and cultivation of cannabis for adults 21 years old or older. It would also collect a 16% tax to fund “public programs”, authorize the regulation of licenses by state and local governments and allow the expungement of cannabis offenses. Essentially, cannabis use in Arizona would be accessible and regulated in similar ways to the tobacco and alcohol industries. Even shorter summary: legal weed, man.

Let’s break it down a little more. Prop 207 legalizes what’s commonly referred to as “recreational marijuana”, whereas “adult use cannabis” is the preferred verbiage in some circles. It might seem a little nit-picky and possibly off topic, but I want to take one quick aside to talk about the difference between the terminology here. I’m not entirely sure where “recreational marijuana/cannabis” originated, but my theory is that it – like most language used when trying to make major policy changes – had strategic purposes.

I imagine it can be a little overwhelming or concerning to be a person with little to no cannabis knowledge seeing “legalize marijuana” sentiments all over the place. Even with massive changes in cannabis legislation across the country, the “War on Drugs” attitude is still alive and well in certain circles. Now, replace “legal weed” with “recreational use marijuana” and I imagine that softens the blow quite a bit. Calling it “recreational” suggests that it’s a once in a while kind of thing, like a 12 pack of beer on a Friday night, something that’s much more familiar and widely accepted – and I think that’s exactly where the problem lies.

Now, I’m all for using language that makes cannabis and cannabis education more accessible, but what I don’t necessarily love is feeling like the term “recreational use” minimizes or erases those of us that use cannabis medicinally. Of course cannabis can be used recreationally and it’s a ton of fun, but categorizing it as “recreational” could be bad for progress in the long run. Just food for thought.

Now, back to prop 207. Individuals will be able to cultivate up to six cannabis plants, as long as they are in an enclosed, lockable space that is out of public view and the possession of up to an ounce. The Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) would become responsible for the rules and regulations regarding legal cannabis, like licensing dispensaries, cultivation and production facilities. DHS will be required to accept license applications from existing non profit medical cannabis dispensaries first, and these facilities will be eligible to hold a non profit medical cannabis license as well as a for profit recreational cannabis license. From what I can tell, this “first application” process will also apply to potential cannabis businesses applying for a license in a county with one or no nonprofit dispensaries currently as well. All this means is the existing medical cannabis dispensaries will have first crack at their for profit license, meaning they could be legally licensed for both nonprofit medical cannabis sales as well as for profit “recreational”sales. It would also provide local governments the power to ban cannabis facilities and testing centers, giving them control over regulation, zoning and licensing. For example, Gilbert already has an ordinance in place banning new recreational cannabis businesses and testing facilities – aside from the one nonprofit medical dispensary currently in operation in Gilbert, but we’ll get to that a little later.

Prop 207 includes a Social Equity Opportunity Program (SEOP) which issues licenses to businesses whose owners are from “communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws”.

In addition to the existing transaction privilege tax and use tax, prop 207 imposes a 16 percent tax on cannabis sales. According to the ballot initiative, this tax revenue is going to be divided between community college districts, municipal sheriff, police, and fire departments, fire districts, the state’s Highway User Revenue Fund and a new Justice Reinvestment Fund.

Last but certainly not least, prop 207 allows anyone convicted of cannabis related crimes that involved the use, possession, cultivation or transportation to petition to have their records expunged from their criminal record starting July 12th, 2021.

From what I can tell, that’s it. That’s what proposition 207 would change for the Arizona cannabis industry. At least legally, on the books, and upon first glance, this all looks pretty good right? It might look good up front, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t dissenting opinions, and I believe that being informed means including as many angles on a subject as you can find.

Yes or No? Thoughts and Concerns

Politics are very rarely cut and dry, and prop 207 is no different. As more of the country has passed some kind of cannabis regulation, medical, recreational or both, we can look to these states to make a more informed decision regarding cannabis legislation in our own state. There are parts of this proposition that I think are great and definitely steps in the right direction for cannabis consumers, and there are parts that make me uneasy or downright suspicious.

First of all, let’s talk about the funding for prop 207. Smart and Safe Arizona, a campaign committee, is the leading force behind the ballot initiative, having raised over $5 million in funding as of the end of September 2020. Three of the biggest contributors to this campaign are Curaleaf, Harvest Enterprises Inc. and Copperstate Farms, LLC. Harvest Enterprises and Copperstate Farms are both cannabis firms and Curaleaf is a cannabis business operating in 23 states. There are concerns that cannabis legalization legislation mainly funded by multi-million dollar cannabis companies may not have the consumers best interests in mind and may disproportionately benefit the larger corporations, driving smaller cannabis dispensaries out of business. Remember earlier, when I mentioned the only medical dispensary in Gilbert? If prop 207 passes, the only nonprofit and for profit cannabis business in Gilbert that won’t be banned will be – drumroll please – Curaleaf.

Aside from concerns for small cannabis businesses in Arizona, there are concerns that there will be a continuing trend in a decrease in quality, especially flower. As recreational cannabis is legalized, backed by large cannabis corporations, the fear is that focus will shift away from quality medical cannabis for patients to mass production with less quality control. I have a hard time having a concrete opinion on this, because I don’t have any experience with dispensary cannabis in Arizona, I don’t really have an opinion on the quality or the trend of decline. That being said, I can say that I share concerns about access to quality medication for patients. Now, I’m not familiar with the quality of product that the three cannabis companies that are backing prop 207 produce, but I am aware of the feeling of unease you feel when something you enjoy is corporatized. In my experience, it’s a pleasant surprise if quality doesn’t decrease a little, it seems almost expected. However, a decrease in quality isn’t something that a whole population of medical cannabis patients should have to worry about.

Next up is cultivation, which I think is great. Being able to legally grow up to six cannabis plants at home is awesome, and a great way for medical patients to make sure that they are getting the quality and strain that they need. That being said, growing your own quality cannabis isn’t easy, and it’s a months long process to end up with flower you can use. Cultivation will be a viable option for some people but unless there is a legal purchasing process outside of licensed dispensaries – I’m thinking something akin to early caregiver laws – I don’t think home cultivation is realistic for most consumers, and I think big business knows that.

Finally, tax revenue spending, expungement and incarceration. The 16% tax that would be imposed is being divided between multiple state programs, including sheriff and police departments. Hopefully no one has forgotten that I write mainly opinion pieces, and with that being said, my opinion is that increasing police funding right now is maybe not the best move. Besides the optics of increased police funding on the back of legalized cannabis, there’s also evidence that legalizing cannabis has increased the arrest of minorities for cannabis related crimes. In LA, for example, since cannabis legalization in 2017, there has been a steady uptick in black people being arrested for cannabis related crimes.

Legalization can dramatically decrease arrests overall, but it’s believed that minority communities may have less access to legal cannabis than majority white communities. Combined with the systematic over policing of minority communities – not to mention the increased budget – I think concerns that minority incarcerations will increase in Arizona under legalization are completely valid. I think the SEOP is a nice addition, but there’s no guarantee that licensing these owners will increase legal access to cannabis for minority communities disproportionately affected by previous marijuana laws. Additionally, while the expungement opportunity is one of my favorite parts of the proposition, there doesn’t seem to be a clear path to expungement.

That’s a lot to consider before going to vote, I know, but I want you to be SO INFORMED. I want you to know exactly what you’re voting on and why, and I hope I was able to give you both sides of the argument. Whether or not 207 passes, I think the fact that we keep seeing more and better cannabis propositions is fantastic progress.

Kelly Mahoney worked at a medical cannabis Co-op with her mother, Laura Mastropietro, dealing mainly with helping new patients acquire their medical cards and helping them find the best strains and methods. Diagnosed at a young age with spinal muscular atrophy, she was also a medical cannabis patient and still advocates for the incredible benefits, and downright fun, of cannabis. She now lives in a prohibition state as a cat mom and gamer wife.



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