2016 Southwest Cannabis Conference & Expo in Phoenix

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.

Medical use[edit]

Proposition 200 (1996)[edit]

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that contained a provision allowing physicians to prescribe cannabis.[1] The medical use provision was then essentially repealed by state legislators a few months later,[2] but the change was rejected by voters in a 1998 veto referendum (Proposition 300).[3] Ultimately the medical use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").[4]

Former U.S. senator (and Republican presidential nominee) Barry Goldwater was among the supporters of the initiative,[5] serving as honorary chairman of the Proposition 200 campaign.[6] The main sponsor in support of the initiative was University of Phoenix founder John Sperling.[5]

Proposition 203 (2002)[edit]

Proposition 203 (in 2002) – a medical cannabis initiative that also sought to decriminalize recreational use – failed with 42.7% of the vote.[7] 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).[8][9][10] 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.[9]

Proposition 203 (2010)[edit]

Proposition 203 (in 2010), an initiative seeking to legalize the medical use of cannabis, was approved with 50.1% of the vote.[11] The initiative allowed patients with a doctor's recommendation to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for treatment of certain qualifying conditions.[12][13] 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.[12][14] 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.[14][15]

In May 2011, Gov. Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne filed a lawsuit in federal court questioning some of the initiative's provisions.[16] The lawsuit sought a ruling on whether state employees involved in implementing certain provisions were subject to federal prosecution.[17][18] Citing this uncertainty, the state also announced that it would suspend the issuance of licenses for medical cannabis dispensaries.[19] The lawsuit was dismissed in January 2012, however,[20] and Gov. Brewer subsequently lifted the moratorium.[21][22]

In May 2012, Gov. Brewer signed legislation that made illegal the possession of medical cannabis on college campuses.[23] The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in May 2018 that the law was unconstitutional, however.[24]

Recreational use[edit]

Proposition 205 (2016)[edit]

Proposition 205 (in 2016), an initiative to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, failed with 48.7% of the vote.[25] The initiative would have allowed adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.[26] 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.[26]

The campaign to defeat Proposition 205 raised more than $6 million,[27] aided significantly by the fundraising efforts of Gov. Doug Ducey.[28] 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).[29] 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).[25]

2020 efforts[edit]

The Arizona Dispensaries Association and Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce began organizing in August 2019 for another ballot initiative.[30][31][32]

The Arizona Dispensaries Association filed a ballot initiative application on September 26, 2019,[33] 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.[34] As of January 17, 2020, the Arizona Dispensaries Association claimed to have collected over 150,000 signatures.[35]

In November 2019, The Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce chose a different approach, pursuing a legislative referendum for ballot consideration.[36][37] 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)[38] 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".[39] 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.[40]


  1. ^ "Drug Reform Measure Signed Into Law In Arizona". NORML. December 9, 1996. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  2. ^ "Arizona Bill Delays Medical Marijuana Use". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. April 16, 1997. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  3. ^ Spivack, Sarah (November 12, 1998). "Doctors leery to prescribe marijuana as medication". Arizona Daily Wildcat. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  4. ^ State-By-State Medical Marijuana Laws, Marijuana Policy Project, December 2016
  5. ^ a b Gerber, Rudolph Joseph (June 30, 2004). Legalizing Marijuana: Drug Policy Reform and Prohibition Politics. Praeger. ISBN 978-0275974480.
  6. ^ Sahagun, Louis (December 10, 1996). "Arizona Begins Revolt Against Drug War". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 13, 2019.
  7. ^ "Arizona Marijuana Legalization, Proposition 203 (2002)". Ballotpedia. Retrieved June 4, 2017.
  8. ^ "Initiative To Decriminalize Pot, Expand Medicinal Marijuana Law Qualifies For Arizona Ballot". NORML. August 14, 2002. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  9. ^ a b "Election 2002: Arizona". stopthedrugwar.org. October 18, 2002. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  10. ^ "Proposition 203 - 2002 Arizona Ballot Proposition Guide". azsos.gov. Retrieved September 17, 2019.
  11. ^ "Arizona Medical Marijuana Question, Proposition 203 (2010)". Ballotpedia. Retrieved June 4, 2017.
  12. ^ a b "Arizona Becomes Fifteenth State To Legalize Limited Medical Use Of Marijuana". NORML. November 18, 2010. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  13. ^ Belville, Russ (November 15, 2010). "30 Facts About Arizona's New Medical Marijuana Law". NORML. Retrieved September 17, 2019.
  14. ^ a b Freeman, David W. (November 16, 2010). "Prop 203 Passes: Medical Marijuana to Be Legal in Arizona". CBS News. Associated Press. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  15. ^ Millette, Lauren (November 2, 2010). "Local Leaders Speak Out Against Medical Marijuana Initiative". Prescott eNews. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  16. ^ Rough, Ginger (May 24, 2011). "Arizona officials to file suit over medical-pot program". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  17. ^ Fischer, Howard (May 24, 2011). "Lawsuit could put hold on Arizona medical marijuana". Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  18. ^ Davenport, Paul (May 27, 2011). "Arizona sues Justice Dept. over medical marijuana". Arizona Capitol Times. Associated Press. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  19. ^ Reinhart, Mary K. (May 27, 2011). "Arizona medical-pot dispensaries put on hold". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  20. ^ Sullum, Jacob (January 5, 2012). "Federal Judge Dismisses Arizona Governor's Challenge to Her Own State's Medical Marijuana Law". Reason. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  21. ^ Sullum, Jacob (January 19, 2012). "Arizona's Governor Will Implement Her State's Medical Marijuana Law". Reason. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  22. ^ "Arizona: Governor Directs State Health Officials To Implement Voter-Approved Cannabis Dispensary Measure". NORML. January 19, 2012. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  23. ^ Fischer, Howard (April 3, 2012). "Brewer signs bill banning medical marijuana on college campuses". East Valley Tribune. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  24. ^ "Arizona: Supreme Court Affirms That Lawmakers Cannot Ban Medical Cannabis Access on College Campuses". NORML. May 24, 2018. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  25. ^ a b "Arizona Marijuana Legalization, Proposition 205 (2016)", Ballotpedia
  26. ^ a b Butler, Mike (October 24, 2016). "Pros and cons of Prop. 205: Marijuana initiative's murky language clarified". East Valley Tribune. Retrieved September 13, 2019.
  27. ^ Sanchez, Yvonne Wingett; Woods, Alden (November 9, 2016). "Arizona voters reject Proposition 205 on night of sweeping change for marijuana". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved September 13, 2019.
  28. ^ Sanchez, Yvonne Wingett (November 9, 2016). "As voters reject Prop. 205, marijuana in Arizona to remain prescription-only". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved September 13, 2019.
  29. ^ Stern, Ray (November 3, 2016). "Here Are the Prohibitionists Who've Donated $10,000 or More to Keep Marijuana a Felony in Arizona". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved June 4, 2017.
  30. ^ Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services (14 Nov 2019). "Arizona group unveils proposed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana use, sales". Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  31. ^ Giles, Ben; Rosenblatt, Dillon (2019-08-16). "Recreational marijuana initiative written from lessons learned". Arizona Capitol Times. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  32. ^ "New group coming up with initiative to legalize marijuana". KNXV. 2019-10-19. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  33. ^ Tattrie, Darryl (26 Sep 2019). "Application for Serial Number / Initiative Petition I-23-2020" (PDF). Retrieved 18 Jan 2020.
  34. ^ "Initiative, Referendum and Recall | Arizona Secretary of State". azsos.gov. Retrieved 2020-01-19.
  35. ^ Penny, Brian (2020-01-17). "Opposition Is Minimal (So Far) in the Recreational Cannabis Effort for 2020". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  36. ^ Counts, Austin. "Cannabis Campaigns". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  37. ^ Rosenblatt, Dillon (2019-11-15). "2nd group launches bid to legalize recreational pot". Arizona Capitol Times. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  38. ^ O'Connor, Meg (September 9, 2019). "What Anti-Pot Crusader Bill Montgomery's Supreme Court Seat Means for Weed". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved September 13, 2019.
  39. ^ Pishko, Jessica (November 7, 2016). "This Arizona Prosecutor Is Waging a Strange War on Weed—and That's Just the Beginning". The Nation. Retrieved June 4, 2017.
  40. ^ Stern, Ray (December 22, 2016). "County Attorney Bill Montgomery Continues His Failing Crusade Against Arizona's Medical Marijuana Law". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved June 4, 2017.

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