History Of Medical Marijuana in Arizona

Election Day buttons for marijuana

Prop 200

Most medical marijuana patients in Arizona think that the program is only a few years old, but the state actually passed a medical marijuana law back in 1996, the "Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act.” Voters passed this law with a 65% majority, but the state legislature repealed it a few months later. The law was later rejected by voters in 1998. Ultimately, the medical marijuana program was tabled because of verbiage that conflicted with federal laws.

Supporters of this first crack at medical marijuana legalization included Barry Goldwater, a former Arizona Senator, and the founder of University of Phoenix, John Sperling. The medical marijuana law was signed, albeit with hesitation, by Fife Symington, the Governor of Arizona at the time. He believed that the state’s legislative processes would handle any issues with the law if / when they arose. (Symington’s family now owns the biggest greenhouse medical marijuana cultivation in North America, in the high country of northern Arizona.)

Prop 203 (First Round)

Proposition 203, for the legalization of medical marijuana in Arizona, only got about 43% of the vote in 2002, so it failed. This first Prop 203 allowed for all medical marijuana patients to grow two plants and enacted new marijuana sentencing reforms for those charged with non-violent drug offenses. The opposition to the legalization of marijuana included drug czar John P. Walters and both candidates for Governor, Janet Naplitano and Matt Salmon.

Prop 203 (Second Round)

Once again, medical marijuana in Arizona showed up on the ballot in 2010. This time, it passed with 50.1% of the vote. Here’s what this initiative allowed:

  • Patients who were registered with the state’s medical marijuana program could possess up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana.
  • Medical marijuana patients who live at least 25 miles from a dispensary can grow their own medical marijuana.
  • Limited the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Arizona to 124
  • Medical marijuana was illegal on college campuses (This was overturned in 2018 as unconstitutional).

Prop 205 (Recreational, or “Adult-use”)

In 2016, there was an initiative for recreational cannabis, also called “adult-use.” The recreational marijuana initiative failed, garnering 48.7% of the vote. Prop 205 would have allowed consumers to grow up to six plants for personal use. The initiative would have also created a taxation on marijuana that would have benefitted the funding of the state’s public school system, as well as programs for substance abuse.

The opposition had deep pockets, and raised $6 million, with the help of Governor Doug Ducey. The biggest contributor to the anti-legalization of cannabis in Arizona was Bruce Halle, the founder of Discount Tire, who donated $1 million of his own money. He died about a year after the election. Insys Therapeutics, known for its production of fentanyl, also contributed a half million dollars to the anti-legalization of marijuana efforts.

Supporters of Prop 205’s marijuana legalization initiative included Dr. Bronner’s, with a donation of $550,000, and the Marijuana Policy Project, which donated a whopping $1,715,000 to the campaign.

What’s Next For Arizona And Cannabis?

As of October 1, 2019, there are two initiatives for the legalization of marijuana in November 2020.

Smart And Safe Arizona Act

The first, the "Smart and Safe Arizona Act," is backed by major cannabis brands. The proposition would allow consumers to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, and add a 16% tax on recreational sales of marijuana. Revenue from the Smart and Safe Arizona Act would go to public safety and community colleges.

If the Smart and Safe Arizona Act passes, there will be a cap on the number of dispensaries allowed in the state in relation to the number of pharmacies. The proposition is for one dispensary for every 10 pharmacies in Arizona.

Arizonans For Cannabis Reform

The second initiative in the legalization of cannabis in Arizona is the Arizonans for Cannabis Reform, which was known as the AZ Cannabis Justice Act. The name had to be changed after a call from Marvel for using “Justice” in the name of the act. They have gathered about three thousand votes as of October 2019.

Medical marijuana has been a big part of the Arizona culture for several years now. If you’d like to learn more, ask one of our Patient Service Providers at either our Phoenix or Glendale locations.