The first legal sales of adult-use cannabis in Arizona began on January 22, 2021, less than three months after voters approved a ballot measure to end marijuana prohibition in the state.
This means Arizona implemented the result of its successful marijuana ballot initiative faster than the other 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, that legalized cannabis through a voter-approved measure.
The state Department of Health Services (DHS) is responsible for drawing up and overseeing the legal marijuana market’s regulations. It published two drafts of its proposed rules and regulations which then took effect on January 15. DHS then announced it was ready to review a first round of applications for recreational cannabis business licenses.
Initially, DHS only considered applications from existing medical marijuana operators unless the proposal concerned counties with two or fewer dispensaries. The state cannabis regulator approved 73 out of 79 applications and informed the successful applicants they could begin legally selling marijuana to adults 21 and older straight away. A further 17 applications have since been approved.
“Existing medical marijuana dispensaries, once their applications are approved by DHS, can legally begin selling marijuana to adults who are at least 21 years old,” said DHS spokesperson Steve Elliot. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they open right then, since they may need inventory, staff, (Arizona Department of Revenue) paperwork. But they’re legal with our approval.”
Elliot added that the next round of applications will start soon and be open to applicants who do not run an existing medical cannabis dispensary.
DHS and other state officials were credited by marijuana reform advocates for expeditiously implementing the will of Arizona’s voters.
“I commend state officials for prioritizing the implementation of Prop. 207 and ensuring that Arizona adults have safe and convenient access to affordable marijuana in a timely manner,” NORML State Policies Coordinator Carly Wolf said. “Voters were crystal clear on their mandate at the ballot box: end the failed policy of criminalization and replace it with a legal pragmatic regulatory framework as soon as possible.”
However, the quick turnaround from the voter-approved ballot measure to the implementation of legal cannabis sales could lead to a shortfall in the supply of marijuana at recreational dispensaries, with some stating they’ll need to prioritize access for medical cannabis patients for the time-being.
“We had a number of different elements that we had to address on supply because we want to make sure that we’re not going to run out of products especially those medical products,” Robert Smith, director of sales and marketing at a dispensary in Maricopa County, said to KYMA.
Arizona’s fortunes since voting to legalize marijuana contrast with those of New Jersey, which also overwhelmingly approved the measure on Election Day. New Jersey lawmakers and Gov. Phil Murphy have yet to agree on enabling legislation to put the result of the vote into effect over disagreements on how to regulate the industry and what public safety measures may be required.