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Here’s what you need to know about marijuana in Arizona

April 20, sometimes called Weed Day, is an annual celebration of marijuana. Here’s where it comes from Courier Journal

Here’s what to know about marijuana in Arizona, where recreational use was approved by Proposition 207 in November 2020, and medical use of the drug was legalized in 2010.

The new law means people 21 and older will be able to possess and grow marijuana and medical-marijuana dispensaries can sell the drug to all adults.

The ballot measure also covers a variety of other issues related to legalization, from expunging criminal records for possession to driving under the influence of cannabis.

When is it legal to possess marijuana?

The proposition becomes official when the election results are canvassed Nov. 30. At that point adults 21 and older can possess up to an ounce of marijuana, with no more than five grams in a concentrated form.

When is it legal to grow marijuana?

Like the possession rules, growing is allowed after the Nov. 30 canvass. Adults can grow six plants at home or no more than 12 plants in a house with more than one adult.

When can I buy marijuana?

The proposition requires the Department of Health Services to accept applications for medical dispensaries beginning in January, and to issue those licenses to qualified medical dispensaries within 60 days.

This means March is the earliest that people without medical-marijuana cards can buy marijuana at recreational retail locations. It’s possible the kick off will take longer, but dispensary operators are hoping to be able to offer recreational sales by April 20, 2021, or 420 as the cannabis holiday is called.

The measure states that if DHS doesn’t issue recreational licenses by April 5, medical dispensaries in good standing can begin offering sales to adults until the department issues licenses.

When can I get my felony marijuana conviction erased?

The measure states that starting July 12, people who were arrested, charged with, adjudicated or convicted, or sentenced for possessing two and a half ounces or less of marijuana, not more than 12.5 grams of concentrate, or having six marijuana plants, or marijuana paraphernalia, can petition to have the record expunged.

The details are thick on how this will proceed, but if the agency that prosecuted the crime can’t prove “by clear and convincing evidence” that the crime doesn’t qualify for expungement, the court has to grant the petition. Clear evidence would mean prosecutors have to prove, for example, the conviction was for possessing more than two and a half ounces or some other violation not covered by the ballot measure.

Phoenix defense attorney Thomas Dean estimates hundreds of thousands of people could petition for their records to be cleared, based on data that shows more than 10,000 people a year are arrested in Arizona for marijuana possession.

Most of those people are directed to costly drug treatment programs, and the record can prevent them from getting hired at a variety of jobs.

How many dispensaries will there be?

Arizona has about 120 operating medical dispensaries today, and they will be the first to be allowed to get licenses for adult sales to anyone over 21. There are about nine or 10 licenses in Arizona that are not yet being used at a dispensary, and eventually those are likely to open and sell medical and recreational marijuana.

The measure also allows DHS to issue licenses to counties where there are fewer than two dispensaries today. And finally, there are 26 “social equity” licenses to be issued (more on this below), which should bring the total number of dispensaries in the state to about 160.

What will the tax be and how much will it bring to the state?

The measure calls for an excise tax of 16% on recreational marijuana, on top of regular sales taxes, which vary by jurisdiction. Budget officials at the state Legislature expect the measure to bring in about $254 million from the combined taxes. Initiative backers have estimated a higher figure of about $300 million annually.

Where will all that money go and why won’t it go to K-12 education?

The money is distributed several ways, first paying for the additional services needed from DHS to administer the program and to law enforcement. The remaining funds go mostly to community colleges.

Initiative backers said the additional tax revenue could make a difference in the community college system, but would not be sufficient to address needs in K-12 schools, and they didn’t want to make what would have amounted to a token contribution to grade schools.

What is a ‘social equity’ license and who will get one?

DHS has the task of defining who can apply for the 26 social equity licenses available through the measure. The proposition only states that the licenses will be issued to “individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws.”

DHS has six months from the time it issues final rules on the program to issue the social equity licenses.

What can the dispensaries sell?

It depends. Dispensaries can continue to offer much of the same marijuana flower, concentrates, edibles and other product as they do for the medical program, but there are some limits on the adult-use sales that the medical sales don’t have.

The most significant is potency of edibles, which are limited to 10 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per serving and 100 mg per package. Some products available now for medical patients are far stronger than this, and will remain available for sale to medical patients only.

The adult-use rules also prohibit any edibles from being shaped like a “human, animal, insect, fruit, toy or cartoon,” which is not a restriction on medical edibles today.

On a similar theme, dispensaries can’t sell products with names that resemble or imitate products marketed to children.

Vape pens and other forms of concentrated marijuana that are smoked will be available, though.

Is it legal to drive under the influence of marijuana?

Proposition 207 says that “driving, flying or boating while impaired to the slightest degree by marijuana remains illegal.” But it also says that simply testing positive for marijuana metabolites does not mean a person is impaired.

Under current Arizona law, drivers can be convicted of driving under the influence if they simply have marijuana metabolites in their system, which can last for weeks, long after the actual “high” has passed.

Proposition 207 says that “a person with metabolites or components of marijuana in the person’s body is guilty . only if the person is also impaired to the slightest degree.”

The change will mean people who use marijuana can’t be charged with driving impaired days later unless law enforcement officers also show the person was impaired, for example, with a roadside test or observations of erratic or inattentive driving.

Can I use marijuana at work?

Probably not. The measure states that it “does not restrict the rights of employers to maintain a drug-and-alcohol-fee workplace or affect the ability of employers to have workplace policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees or prospective employees.” So employers can prohibit marijuana use on the job and continue to test potential hires for usage.

“Under 207, employers can discriminate however they want,” said Dean, the attorney.

He said that employers can require workers to take a urinalysis that can detect inactive metabolites that may signal marijuana use a month after the fact.

“I don’t think there’s anything you can do to stop that kind of adverse action against employees,” he said.

That is one reason some patients may choose to maintain their medical-marijuana cards, despite the fee to the state every two years and the cost of a doctor’s recommendation. Medical-marijuana patients do have some workplace protections.

“They cannot fire someone (with a medical card) for a positive test,” Dean said. “They can only take action against them if they are impaired at the workplace or are in possession of medical marijuana in the workplace.”

Is my medical-marijuana card still valid?

Yes. The medical marijuana program is not changing, although patients are likely to find their dispensaries busier in 2021 when recreational sales begin.

Medical card holders are allowed to possess more marijuana, purchase higher potency edibles, and avoid the 16% excise tax. They also have some protection from being fired from a job for failing a drug test, though some safety sensitive jobs can still require workers to be drug free.

How many people hold medical-marijuana cards in Arizona?

As of September 2020, about 280,000 Arizonans held cards issued by the Department of Health Services that allow them to posses marijuana and purchase it from state-licensed dispensaries.

How do people obtain a card?

Patients need to be diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition (see below) and then get a written certification from a medical doctor, osteopath, naturopath or homeopath licensed in Arizona.

Many traditional doctors decline to issue the written certification required by the Department of Health Services. However, a number of clinics in Arizona specialize in issuing marijuana certifications.

Those physicians often are willing to make both the medical diagnosis and the required certification.

What are the conditions that qualify for a marijuana certification?

Cancer, glaucoma, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease.

Also, any chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or the treatment for a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition that causes: cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures (including those characteristic of epilepsy), severe or persistent muscle spasms (including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis).

About 88 percent of Arizona patients qualify for their card because of chronic pain, according to the Department of Health Services.

What does a card cost?

The total cost to pay a doctor to make the recommendation and pay the state for a card costs from about $200 to $300, based on Phoenix-area advertisements. Originally, the cards had to be renewed annually, but a new state law made the cards valid for two years.

The state card costs $150 for an initial registration or a renewal. It is discounted to $75 for people who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This is uniform across the state.

Doctors writing the certification charge varying amounts from about $50 to $150, plus they may charge for an exam to diagnose the medical condition that qualifies a patient to use marijuana.

Patients who bring in documentation for their ailment from another doctor often either receive a discount or are charged less for their certification, based on the advertisements from multiple clinics.

Some clinics offer to match any competitor’s price, so shopping around online and being willing to drive across town can save customers.

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How many places can people buy marijuana legally in Arizona?

Arizona has issued 130 dispensary licenses, and about 120 are operating in the state.

How much marijuana can card-holders buy?

Qualified patients can purchase no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana in any 14-day period.

How much marijuana do dispensaries sell?

In 2019, they sold about 75 tons of marijuana flower alone, plus another 7 tons in food and other products containing marijuana, according to the Department of Health Services.

How do patients get a marijuana card? How much does marijuana cost? Where do people buy marijuana legally?

See AZ’s Average Price for Marijuana Flowers, Edibles and Concentrates

According to a new cannabis industry pricing guide, Arizona has some of the least expensive marijuana products in America.

The pricing guide also reveals that many Arizona dispensaries see the highest profit margin from pre-rolls and the lowest from flowers. The lowest prices in the state appear to be for edibles such as foods and drinks.

The average prices for medical marijuana products in Arizona:

Pre-Rolls: $4.13/gram

Flowers: $102.56/oz ($1,641/lb)

Edibles: $0.08/mg

Concentrates: $20.90/gram

Vape cartridges: $38.70/gram

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