Policy Recommendations Arizona

2020-21 Improvements and Recommendations

In the November 2020 elections, Arizona voters chose to legalize cannabis for all adults over the age of 21 through a ballot initiative called The Smart and Safe Arizona Act. The initiative included a provision to expunge past cannabis conviction records for anyone convicted for a possession offense involving less than 2½ ounces of cannabis or for cultivating six or fewer plants at home. Smart and Safe also contains a provision allowing for 26 social equity licenses to be issued to those most harmed by the war on drugs in early 2022.

Just 80 days after voters in Arizona weighed in on the measure, retail cannabis officially became available to anyone over 21. The state accomplished this blazing fast turnaround by relying heavily on the existing infrastructure of the medical cannabis program. The plan called for a hefty $39 million to be transferred out of the medical cannabis fund in order to establish regulatory operations for the adult use side. Medical cannabis dispensaries were authorized to apply for early applicant licensing which would grant them the ability to act as a co-located retailer for both medical and adult use consumers. The plan also falls into the trap of handing over too much regulatory control to localities which has been a massive issue in states like California and Massachusetts; however, it specifically exempts communities from restricting existing medical cannabis retailers or their ability to co-locate dispensaries.

Even as the adult use market opens its doors to the general public, Arizona continues to see a steady growth in patient enrollment as it became one of only five states with more than 300,000 patients registered in August. Enrollment dropped back below 300,000 in November as enrollments expired.

For 2022, ASA recommends that Arizona’s legislature protects patients’ stake in the existing market by creating a review board staffed by patients and physicians with independent regulatory control over medical cannabis operations in the state. Legislators should also allow telehealth practices for patient certification and renewals; many states made this popular measure permanent after temporarily allowing it as a pandemic safety measure. Finally, the state must take action to allow minors to medicate on school grounds, preferably with assistance from school staff such as a nurse.