Sales of recreational marijuana

Sales of recreational marijuana are expected to begin in early April, industry experts say. Dispensaries that sell medical marijuana are likely to be the first to get licenses for recreational sales.

Recreational use of marijuana will soon be legal in Arizona, thanks to the easy passage of Proposition 207, but economic and logistical hurdles remain before Arizonans will feel the effects.

The measure-—approved by more than 60% of voters in unofficial results from Nov. 3—decriminalizes recreational marijuana use and possession for those 21 or older; allows minor, nonviolent marijuana offenders to petition to have their criminal records expunged; and imposes an excise tax to support underfunded programs across the state.

Once the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office certifies the proposition, which is expected to happen this  month, the use and possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana will be legal except in public spaces. Despite the law’s passage, however, marijuana possession, distribution and use remain federal crimes.

Dispensaries and growers, which have become a familiar presence in Arizona since voters narrowly approved marijuana for medical use in 2010, will have to wait for state approval to sell marijuana for recreational uses. 

Application for state licenses is expected to open in January, and organizers of Proposition 207 are predicting an April 5 launch for recreational sales.

A key element of Proposition 207 is the opportunity to expunge a criminal record, which can impede employment, nullify the right to vote and harm reputations.

Proposition 207 is the first voter measure in Arizona that offers expungement, according to Jared Keenan, a senior staff attorney at American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. But the process may differ in each of Arizona’s 15 counties, depending on the population and whether the county attorney supported the measure.

Currently, Keenan said, all marijuana convictions are felonies, which means convicts could lose their right to vote, their access to public housing and food assistance, and their eligibility for federal student loans. A criminal record also makes it harder to get a job.

Representatives of dispensaries and marijuana growers and processors are optimistic about the future of their businesses under the new law. Right now, though, it’s a waiting game.

Dispensaries can apply for a recreational adult use license from Jan. 19 through March 9, according to azmarijuana.com. The Arizona Department of Health Services is expected to approve licenses within 60 days.

Through the 16% excise tax, Proposition 207 will support community colleges, mental health programs, maternal mortality programs, efforts to combat impaired drivers and other underfunded needs in the state. The tax will be levied in addition to state and local sales taxes totaling about 9%.

Colorado is among at least a dozen states, including California and Illinois, that have legalized recreational marijuana. Arizona was one of four states that legalized it Nov. 3 for adults 21 and older.