Understanding Arizona’s New Marijuana Law

Arizona was 1 of 4 states to vote yes on Election Day for non-medical usage of cannabis.

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What is the Grand Canyon State’s new marijuana law, and how will it affect employers?

Arizona voters approved a ballot measure on November 3 allowing the recreational use of marijuana, making the Grand Canyon State 1 of 4 states to approve a non-medical use for cannabis on Election Day.

The “Smart and Safe Arizona Act” means that Arizona residents 21 and older will be able to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana and that medical dispensaries can sell marijuana to the public.

In general, the law allows individuals to possess a maximum of 1 ounce of marijuana and up to 5 grams in concentrated form.

Sixty percent of Arizona voters approved the measure, while 40% of Arizona voters rejected the proposal, according to AZMarijuana.com. State budget officials have estimated that taxes on the measure will bring in about $254 million.

When does it become effective?

The measure will become law after the counted ballots are certified by the Secretary of State, which normally takes about 30 days. After that, the Governor will likely issue a proclamation that makes the voter approved ballot measure into a new law.

However, dispensaries will have to get a license before they can sell recreational marijuana.

Employer conduct 

The initiative does not restrict the rights of “employers, schools, day care centers, adult day care facilities, health care facilities or corrections facilities to prohibit or regulate conduct” otherwise allowed by the measure when such conduct occurs on their property. Employers retain their rights to maintain a drug and alcohol-free place of employment and can have workplace policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees or prospective employees.

Companies are also not required to allow or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale, or cultivation of marijuana in a place of employment.

Employers retain their rights to maintain a drug and alcohol-free place of employment and can have workplace policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees or prospective employees.

Home cultivation

Home cultivation will become legal once the initiative is certified.

Individuals can possess, transport, cultivate, or process a maximum of 6 marijuana plants for personal use at their primary residence. The law allows for a maximum of 12 plants if 2 or more individuals, who are at least 21 years old, reside in 1 place.

Cultivation must take place within a closet, room, greenhouse, or other area on the grounds of a residence equipped with a lock or other security device that prevents access by minors. The cultivation must also take place in an area where the marijuana plants are not visible by the public.

The law allows for acquiring, possessing, manufacturing, using, purchasing, selling, or transporting paraphernalia relating to the cultivation, manufacture, processing, or consumption of marijuana or marijuana products.

Marijuana use in public places

A person who smokes marijuana in a public place or open space is guilty of a petty offense.

Individuals cannot smoke marijuana in a public or open space. A person who smokes marijuana in a public place or open space is guilty of a petty offense.

Impaired driving

The new law does not allow driving, flying, or boating while impaired to “even the slightest degree by marijuana.”

Licensing

The Department of Health Services (DHS) will accept applications for medical dispensaries beginning in January and issue licenses within 60 days. 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.

Medical marijuana dispensaries that obtain a recreational marijuana dispensary license can operate both entities in the same location.

Penalties for possession violations

Individuals found guilty of a first violation are subject to a civil penalty of not more than $100, payable to the “Smart and Safe Arizona” fund and up to 4 hours of drug education or counseling.

A 2nd violation is a petty offense and offenders may need to attend up to 8 hours of drug education or counseling.

A 3rd or subsequent violation is a class 1 misdemeanor.

Penalties for cultivating violations

Cultivating marijuana plants where they are visible to the public and in an area lacking a lock or other security device that prevents access by minors is guilty of a petty offense for a first offense and a class 3 misdemeanor for a 2nd or subsequent offense.

Expungement of previous marijuana offenses

Beginning July 12, 2021, people who were arrested or convicted of crimes involving marijuana possession can petition the court to have the record expunged.

Medical use of marijuana was approved in Arizona in 2013.

Other state action

New Jersey, Montana, and South Dakota voters also approved recreational use of marijuana on November 3.

Fifteen states now allow the recreational use of weed. Some of the initiatives are specific that employers not be prohibited from taking adverse employment actions based on employee marijuana use; others, however, do not mention employer rights.

Federal action

Marijuana use remains illegal under federal law; however, a Democratic leader has said that he will propose a bill that would align the states and federal government on the issue. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has sent a letter to members of the United States House of Representatives stating that he plans to introduce a bill in December that would decriminalize cannabis and allow for the expungement of convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses. If the law passes Congress, it would remove cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance — decreasing and eliminating federal penalties for marijuana-related offenses.

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