Arizona voters passed a measure that legalized marijuana for recreational use. But the state’s Republican governor is still threatening to veto it. What does this mean? And what happens next in AZ legalization?
Yes, marijuana is legal for adult use in Arizona. In November 2020, voters approved Proposition 207, which legalized the possession, use, and cultivation of marijuana for adults aged 21 and over. Under the new law, individuals can possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants for personal use. The sale and taxation of marijuana is also permitted under certain conditions, with licensed dispensaries and growers regulated by the Arizona Department of Health Services. However, it is important to note that there are still restrictions on where and when marijuana can be consumed, and driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal.
This was not an easy victory for advocates who have spent years fighting for such change. Backers of Measure B faced opposition from all sides, including law enforcement officials, religious leaders, and even some members of their own party.
They overcame these obstacles with solid support among younger voters and found help from outside groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project.
A similar initiative failed miserably just two years ago, so many people understandably feel cautiously optimistic about legal weed’s prospects in Arizona. Here’s how this happened, why it matters, and what it means for other states.
Since laws keep changing rapidly, making things a bit confusing sometimes, check out our friends at DISA to see a complete map of every state. They have information on what is legal, medical use, recreational use, and everything else.
According to unofficial results, as of November 8, 2016, 57 percent of votes were yes, and 43 percent were no. But, according to official numbers released by the Secretary of State, it was even closer than we thought — with 50.3% voting yes and 49.7% voting no.
Measure B won because of its relatively straightforward argument, which focused less on new rights or freedoms than on reducing social costs associated with prohibition. In addition, proponents pointed out that marijuana arrests disproportionately affect minorities, citing data showing that blacks and Latinos are more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than whites.
They argued that legalizing pot would reduce those costs since fewer people would get arrested.
They also noted that marijuana sales tax revenues could fund public services like education and transportation. But, of course, opponents countered that most users don’t buy marijuana very often, meaning their purchases aren’t enough to generate much revenue. That said, marijuana taxes indeed tend to be lower than alcohol ones.
Opponents claimed that legalization would increase crime rates, but supporters pointed to studies suggesting otherwise. For example, some researchers argue that marijuana may decrease violent crime due to its effects on users’ impulse control and general stress levels. As far back as 2005, California saw decreases in drug-related crimes when medical cannabis became legal, according to one study.
And finally, proponents claimed that legalization would allow police to focus more resources on serious criminals instead of wasting them on low-level offenders. But, again, this seems to be supported by evidence from California, where police shifted resources away from enforcing trivial marijuana laws after Proposition 19 passed in 1996.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons to oppose legalization aside from cost savings. For example, many feared that legalizing marijuana would cause young people to try harder drugs. However, studies show that teens who already smoke marijuana are less likely to start using hard substances later.
It should go without saying that many people believe marijuana is harmful and shouldn’t be used recreationally. Opponents of legalization cited health risks and potential harm to developing brains and claimed that marijuana could trigger schizophrenia-like symptoms.
But maybe you’re not convinced yet. Perhaps you think this doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a single state rather than nationwide policy changes. Or perhaps you want to know what it will look like once it becomes a reality. If any of these things interest you, keep reading!
The Governor Says No, But…
If you weren’t aware, our federal government has much to say about what goes on inside individual U.S. states. Congress controls whether states can pass specific laws, and the president has final approval. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton refused to sign off on proposed initiatives in 1994 and 2000 regarding legalization measures.
That changed under Obama, who signed a bill into law allowing Colorado and Washington to implement their respective marijuana legalization schemes. Since then, several additional states have followed suit. Now it’s up to Trump to decide whether he wants to continue. He hasn’t made his mind clear yet, but he recently told Reuters that he opposes legalization for recreational purposes.
But here’s the thing: Trump isn’t really in charge of what happens to marijuana legislation in Arizona. His office is part of a giant political machine known as the National Governors Association, whose leadership consists of elected governors from around the country. So, while Trump might disagree with the decision, he’s powerless to stop it anyway.
As long as most NGA leadership agrees with it, it stands to reason that Trump will probably follow along. After all, his job is to represent the interests of his constituents first and foremost. You’d hope that includes supporting efforts to make their states better places to live.
This brings us to another interesting point; Trump currently faces a pretty sizable threat to re-election. Several high-profile Republicans have come out strongly against marijuana legalization, including Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Jeff Sessions. These politicians have traditionally opposed any loosening of restrictions on marijuana, claiming that it hurts society at large.
If Trump takes a stand against legalization, it might play right into their hands. He could potentially hurt his election chances by opposing something popular among voters. On the flip side, however, it could convince swing voters that he’s too conservative to trust. Either way, marijuana reform will remain mostly unaffected by politics until 2022, when the electorate decides again.
So Who Veto-Elects The New Legislature?
Trump hasn’t decided yet, but the voters did elect legislators who do agree with the passage of Amendment 64. Democrats took four seats out of 12 total, while Republicans picked up six — giving them a supermajority in both chambers.
These victories came despite attempts by both major parties to take pot legalization off the ballot. Last summer, Democratic lawmakers tried to force a special legislative session to consider the issue, but Republicans blocked their move.
Then, during the 2016 regular session, GOP representatives attempted to attach a legalization amendment to unrelated budget bills, hoping to slip it through unnoticed. Voters rejected that strategy by passing Initiative 301, which calls for a statewide referendum every three years on whether to maintain current marijuana regulations.
Since the legislature favors legalization, it must write rules governing how and where marijuana businesses can operate. One possibility is that lawmakers could limit how many licenses each company receives, perhaps placing different caps based on geography. Another idea involves requiring companies to pay taxes on their products.
Either way, the process will attract lots of attention from lobbyists representing various industries — banks, dispensaries, agriculture, etc. — and many people expect big money to pour into campaigns for and against specific proposals.
Check out this page for updated information on the latest developments for those interested.
How Will This Affect Other States?
Now that Arizona has passed legalization, other states are watching closely to see how it works. Most notably, Nevada holds elections on December 16, 2018, to choose senators for 2020. The Senate District 4 seat is up for grabs, and polls suggest that the incumbent Democrat, Catherine Cortez Masto, has a good shot at winning.
Masto supports marijuana legalization, but she hasn’t been particularly outspoken about it. She didn’t vote for the proposition itself, but her opponent, Sharman Stone, says he plans to prioritize it if elected. Should the race become close, it’s possible that pro-pot sentiment could sway Nevada voters towards Stone.
Gubernatorial races are also in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. None of these seem overly promising for pro-cannabis forces, but activists are keeping tabs on them nonetheless.
Finally, many states are considering legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Several states have done so, but others are considering legalization to bring in extra cash. It wouldn’t necessarily signify a shift toward full legalization if these efforts succeed. Instead, it could simply open up the market for recreational users.
State legislatures will also weigh legalization measures themselves. In addition, many states will be looking to put forward their efforts before the 2022 deadline, so stay tuned for more news on that front.
We’ve covered a few essential points above, but let’s recap. Arizona passed a measure that allows adults 21 and older to possess limited quantities of marijuana for personal use. However, users must also consume their product within private residences unless allowed elsewhere.
Voters approved this measure with roughly 60% of the vote. Once implemented, this will make Arizona join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington as states that fully permit marijuana use.
Governor Doug Ducey threatened to veto the measure, calling it unconstitutional.
Should Ducey veto the action, it will head to the state legislature for consideration.
Many observers expect the new parliament to approve the measure, possibly making it easier to override Ducey’s veto.
With this being the third successful marijuana legalization initiative in the past five years, it’s fair to assume that the trend will continue.