Cannabis in Arizona is illegal for recreational use. A 2016 initiative to legalize recreational use failed with 48.7% of the vote.
Medical use was legalized by way of Proposition 203 in 2010. An initiative passed in 1996 allowed doctors to prescribe cannabis (in addition to enacting other drug policy reforms), but the medical use provision was rendered ineffective due to conflict with federal law.
Proposition 200 (1996)
In 1996, 65% of Arizona voters approved Proposition 200 (the "Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act"), a drug policy reform initiative that contained a provision allowing physicians to prescribe cannabis. The medical use provision was then essentially repealed by state legislators a few months later, but the change was rejected by voters in a 1998 veto referendum (Proposition 300). Ultimately the medical use provision was ineffective, however, due to language that created significant conflict with federal law (use of the word "prescribe" instead of "recommend").
Former U.S. senator (and Republican presidential nominee) Barry Goldwater was among the supporters of the initiative, serving as honorary chairman of the Proposition 200 campaign. The main sponsor in support of the initiative was University of Phoenix founder John Sperling.
Proposition 203 (2002)
Proposition 203 (in 2002) – a medical cannabis initiative that also sought to decriminalize recreational use – failed with 42.7% of the vote. Included in the initiative were requirements to: (a) allow patients to possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis and grow 2 plants; (b) establish a state-run system for the distribution of medical cannabis to patients; (c) decriminalize up to 2 ounces of cannabis for any use (punishable by a $250 fine); and (d) enact new sentencing reforms for non-violent drug offenses (expanding upon the 1996 reforms). Proposition 203 was opposed by the state's law enforcement community, both major party gubernatorial candidates (Democrat Janet Napolitano and Republican Matt Salmon), and drug czar John P. Walters who traveled to the state to campaign against the initiative.
Proposition 203 (2010)
Proposition 203 (in 2010), an initiative seeking to legalize the medical use of cannabis, was approved with 50.1% of the vote. The initiative allowed patients with a doctor's recommendation to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for treatment of certain qualifying conditions. It limited the number of dispensaries to 124 and specified that only patients who reside more than 25 miles from a dispensary could cultivate their own cannabis. Proposition 203 was approved despite opposition from Governor Jan Brewer, Attorney General Terry Goddard, all of the state's sheriffs and county prosecutors, and many other state politicians.
In May 2011, Gov. Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne filed a lawsuit in federal court questioning some of the initiative's provisions. The lawsuit sought a ruling on whether state employees involved in implementing certain provisions were subject to federal prosecution. Citing this uncertainty, the state also announced that it would suspend the issuance of licenses for medical cannabis dispensaries. The lawsuit was dismissed in January 2012, however, and Gov. Brewer subsequently lifted the moratorium.
In May 2012, Gov. Brewer signed legislation that made illegal the possession of medical cannabis on college campuses. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in May 2018 that the law was unconstitutional, however.
Proposition 205 (2016)
Proposition 205 (in 2016), an initiative to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, failed with 48.7% of the vote. The initiative would have allowed adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to six plants for personal use. It also required the establishment of a system for the commercial distribution and taxation of cannabis, with excess tax revenues (after paying for the program's expenses) dedicated to funding public schools and substance abuse programs.
The campaign to defeat Proposition 205 raised more than $6 million, aided significantly by the fundraising efforts of Gov. Doug Ducey. Among the largest contributors to the opposition campaign were Discount Tire ($1,000,000), Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry ($918,000), Sheldon Adelson ($500,000), and Insys Therapeutics ($500,000). The top contributors in support of the initiative were Marijuana Policy Project ($1,715,000), Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps ($550,000), and Drug Policy Alliance ($350,000).
The Arizona Dispensaries Association filed a ballot initiative application on September 26, 2019, called the "Smart and Safe Act." For inclusion on the November 3, 2020 ballot, the initiative would first require 237,645 signatures from registered Arizona voters no later than July 2, 2020. As of January 17, 2020, the Arizona Dispensaries Association claimed to have collected over 150,000 signatures.
In November 2019, The Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce chose a different approach, pursuing a legislative referendum for ballot consideration. The 2020 session of the Arizona State Legislature began on January 13, 2020, and is expected to conclude on April 25, 2020.
Former Maricopa County Attorney (and current state Supreme Court justice) Bill Montgomery has been a leading opponent of cannabis reform efforts in the state of Arizona. He has made a number of controversial comments on the subject, including telling a military veteran who spoke in support of legalization: "I have no respect for you ... because you're an enemy". Montgomery has also engaged in a multi-year legal battle seeking to overturn the state's medical cannabis law that was approved by voters in 2010.
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