Arizona has legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use. The state allows recreational use for adult residents over the age of 21 and medical use for patients of any age as long as they have qualifying conditions and written certifications from approved physicians. Arizona marijuana laws permit adults to possess up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of marijuana at any time, with cannabis concentrates accounting for no more than 5 grams. They may also grow up to six cannabis plants in their places of primary residence. The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act allows approved patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces (70 grams) of marijuana within a 14-day period.
In November 2010, voters in Arizona passed the Proposition 203 ballot initiative that legalized the medical use of cannabis. The legalization of medical marijuana in Arizona led to the creation of the state's medical cannabis program and medical marijuana registry. Proposition 203 also tasked the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) with maintaining these services as well as developing and implementing the rules governing the state's medical marijuana initiatives.
To be approved to buy medical marijuana in Arizona, a patient must apply to join the online medical marijuana registry and obtain a medical marijuana registry identification card. Before applying the patient must make sure they qualify for these provisions. In addition to determining the eligibility of patients for medical marijuana, the ADHS is also responsible for approving caregivers and cannabis dispensaries.
Arizona residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana on November 3, 2020 by passing Proposition 207 via general election ballot. This ballot initiative also introduced excise tax on cannabis in the state and made provisions for expunging certain criminal records for marijuana possession. Following the passage of the initiative, the sale, cultivation, and possession of cannabis became legal in Arizona on November 30, 2020. The first recreational marijuana was sold in the state in January, 2021. The Smart and Safe Act allows each adult resident in Arizona to grow up to six marijuana plants in their home. Households with two or more adults can grow up to 12 plants.
Currently, Arizona does not prevent people with felony records from applying for medical marijuana registry identification cards and obtaining medical cannabis. The state even allows felons convicted of drug trafficking and those on probation for drug-related offenses to receive medical marijuana as long as they have the appropriate certification for doctors licensed to practice in Arizona. Felons denied medical marijuana can also appeal this decision in Arizona courts.
However, while Arizona allows felons to receive medical marijuana as long as they meet all of ADHS's requirements, they are not allowed to serve as caregivers for patients who need medical cannabis. This means that the ADHS will not permit felons to obtain or grow cannabis on behalf of others. Felons also cannot work in marijuana dispensaries in Arizona.
The legalization of marijuana in Arizona has contributed to the state's economy through tax and licensing fees. After Arizona legalized medical marijuana in late 2010, it started charging a general sales tax on its sales. The Arizona Department of Revenue (ADOR) collects taxes on marijuana sales in the state.
In Arizona, users of medical marijuana pay a transaction privilege tax (TPT) or sales tax as well as local county/city tax. The state's sales tax on marijuana is 5.6% while cities and counties charge between 0.25% and 4% in sales tax. In addition to TPT and local tax, Arizona charges excise tax on adult-use marijuana. Therefore, those buying recreational marijuana in the state pay an additional 16% excise tax on their cannabis purchases.
While ADOR does not publish medical marijuana tax revenues, the Arizona Dispensaries Association (ADA) estimates that medical marijuana sales brought in $46 million in state and local tax revenues in 2018. By that year, Arizona already licensed 117 medical marijuana dispensaries and these also have their own integrated farms. The state and local municipalities collect property taxes on these dispensaries and farms as well as fees for issuing and renewing their operating licenses. In total and up to 2019, ADA believes medical marijuana contributed $60 million to Arizona's economy. By 2021, the ADOR reports that revenue from medical marijuana sales exceeded $762 million. Revenue accruing to the state from sales tax on medical marijuana sales crossed $63 million for 2021. In 2022, medical marijuana sales from January to September hit over $ 400 million.
In the first year of recreational sales of marijuana in Arizona, the ADOR reports that recreational sales began with just $625,249 in January 2021. However, by December 2021, total sales from adult-use marijuana were over $600 million. At the end of 2021, excise tax from recreational marijuana contributed over $100 million, with another $50 million accruing from sales tax. In 2022, recreational marijuana sales figures for January to September were over $632 million.
The excise and sales tax from the sale of recreational and medical marijuana in Arizona brought in over $217 million into the state's revenue in 2021. By year-end 2022, it is estimated that the total marijuana sales in Arizona will surpass $1.4 billion.
Arizona ranks among one of the top states for job creation in the marijuana industry. In February 2021, there were nearly 21,000 persons working in Arizona’s cannabis industry. The starting wage for marijuana-related jobs is $35,000 and can go as high as $60,000 for mid-level positions. By 2022, the industry had added over 2,000 new jobs putting the number of persons working in Arizona's cannabis industry at over 23,000.
While marijuana has been fully legalized in the state, there are limitations on its use, possession, and production. The four types of marijuana crimes in Arizona are as follows:
Possession or use
Possession for sale
Production of marijuana
Transportation of marijuana
The Arizona Department of Public Safety (ADPS) publishes annual crime figures for the state including marijuana arrests and incidences of drug-related felonies and misdemeanors. Arizona recorded higher rates of marijuana arrests before the legalization of medical marijuana in 2010. In 2008, law enforcement agencies seized 8,819 grams of marijuana in the state. The same amount was also seized in 2009. The State Arrest Data report for 2008 published by ADPS indicated that 18,689 arrests were made for marijuana possession and 1,413 arrests made for marijuana sale and production. The 2009 State Arrest Data report showed increments in marijuana possession and sale/production arrests. In 2009, Arizona recorded 1,608 arrests for marijuana sale and production and 20,378 arrests for marijuana possession.
Following the legalization of medical marijuana in Arizona in 2010, arrests figures for marijuana crimes began falling. In 2011 and 2012, the state recorded 1,756 and 1,499 arrests for marijuana sale and production respectively. Marijuana possession arrests fell to 16,416 and 15,001 respectively in those years. By 2019, a year prior to the legalization of recreational marijuana, marijuana crime figures for Arizona had fallen significantly. In that year, law enforcement recorded only 544 arrests for marijuana sale and production and 11,661 arrests for possession.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Crime Data Explorer reports 5,699 arrests for the possession of marijuana and 555 arrests for the sale and manufacture of marijuana in Arizona in 2020. By 2021, the arrest figure for possession and sale of marijuana stood at 572 and 68. There was a significant drop of about 89% in the total marijuana arrest made between the two years. The reduction in marijuana-related arrests in Arizona can easily be attributed to the legalization of marijuana in late 2010.
The first reports of marijuana prohibition in Arizona dates back to the 1920s when those caught in possession of the drug were fined or jailed. Arizona marijuana legislation history began in 1996 with Proposition 200. Also known as the Drug Medicalization, Prevention, and Control Act, this initiative sought to legalize medical marijuana for patients that were seriously or terminally ill. Proposition 200 passed with 65% votes but was overturned soon after by state legislators. The legislators' repeal was itself rejected when Arizona residents voted against it in Proposition 300. However, the language of the Act caused the first attempt to legalize medical marijuana in Arizona to fail. It used the word "prescribe" (instead of "recommend") which conflicted with the federal law banning marijuana prescriptions.
Arizona's second attempt to legalize medical marijuana was in 2002 with Proposition 203. However, the initiative failed to get enough votes and failed with 42.7% of the vote. This initiative sought to allow residents of the state to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 2 plants at home as well as decriminalize possessing up to 2 ounces of marijuana. Proposition 203 failed due to wide and active opposition from the Democrat and Republican gubernatorial candidates, Arizona law enforcement, and the relentless anti-marijuana campaign of John P. Walters, a drug czar and once Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
A modified Proposition 203 made a comeback in November 2010 and was included in the November general ballot. This initiative passed by a slim margin and got 50.13% of the vote. Its passage was remarkable because Proposition 203 was opposed by the Governor and Attorney General of Arizona as well as all of the sheriffs and prosecutors of the state's counties. In 2011, following the legalization of medical marijuana in Arizona, the state's Governor and Attorney General contested some of its provisions in federal court seeking to nullify the legislation. However, a federal judge dismissed the case in 2012 and Arizona's Governor signed off on implementing Proposition 203. The Governor made a last-ditch attempt to blunt the reach of the legislation by signing a law that banned the possession of medical marijuana on college campuses in the state. The Arizona Supreme Court overturned this ban in May 2018 by declaring the law unconstitutional.
It took two attempts to decriminalize recreational marijuana in Arizona. The first attempt was Proposition 205 put on the ballot in November 2016. The initiative attempted to allow adults in Arizona to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to 6 marijuana plants for personal use. Proposition 205 failed with 48.7% of the vote. It was opposed by the then Governor of Arizona and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The second attempt to legalize adult-use marijuana in Arizona was Proposition 207. It was championed by the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Dispensaries Association. Proposition 207 got on the ballot by way of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act and proposed the current quantity of marijuana and number of marijuana plants approved for personal possession and cultivation in the state. It also empowered the ADHS to set rules and regulations for implementing recreational marijuana use, sale, and cultivation in the state. Proposition 207 also introduced the 16% excise tax and created the Smart and Safe Arizona Fund that collects tax and licensing revenues from legalized marijuana sales.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry opposed Proposition 207 and sought to have it removed from the ballot for defective wording. However, its opposition was dismissed by a unanimous decision of the Arizona Supreme Court. Proposition 207 passed on November 3, 2020 with 60.03% of the vote. By January 22, 2021, Arizona was already selling recreational marijuana from state-licensed dispensaries. The rapid adoption of the law made it the fastest state in the US to start retail sales after legalizing recreational marijuana.
Cultivation of marijuana in the United States, the early 17th century.