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Arizona voters legalize recreational marijuana

Four years after Arizona voters rejected an attempt to legalize recreational marijuana, they appear to have reversed course and approved a revised measure that will allow anyone older than 21 to legally purchase and use marijuana beginning next year.

Proposition 207, championed by the Smart and Safe Arizona campaign and many of the state's medical marijuana dispensaries, has been largely backed by marijuana industry heavy weights and has seen wide support in polling in advance of Tuesday's election. With more than half of votes counted, the measure has won approval from 60% of voters.

Arizona is one of three states that voted to approve their recreational marijuana ballot measures today. Mississippi, Montanna, New Jersey and South Dakota all asked their voters about marijuana on their ballots Tuesday.

Arizona joins 14 states in approving recreational marijuana.

The Smart and Safe Arizona Act, allows anyone in the state over the age of 21 to buy and possess up to an ounce of marijuana or about five grams of concentrate. Arizona residents also will be able to grow up to six plants for personal use.

"This is one of the most significant pieces of criminal justice reform passed in the state of Arizona," Steve White, CEO of Harvest Health and Recreation, one of the main financial backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona campaign said to the Arizona Mirror, citing the propositions provisions that allows those who have been previously convicted on marijuana charges to have them expunged.

White said he was "relieved" to see the proposition pass but now it is time for work to get underway as the proposition will require certain programs, including one focused on expunging criminal records, to begin work quickly.

The proposition also bars Arizonans from smoking marijuana in public places such as restaurants, parks and sidewalks, and requires all packaging to be child-proof.

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Opposition to the measure has largely come from prosecutors, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Republican leaders like Gov. Doug Ducey, who have backed the group Arizonans for Health and Public Safety.

George Kahlaf, campaign manager for Arizonans for Health and Public Safety said Arizonans are going to have to make sure the proposition is implemented in the "least painful way..

"We see all the problems coming out of Colorado," Kahlaf said, adding that the proposition will take away local control from cities and towns to prohibit dispensaries from coming into their areas unlike how Arizona's current medical marijuana law is implemented.

Yavapai County, home of County Attorney Sheila Polk, who has likened medical marijuana to explosives, voted to approve the measure with 52% of voters choosing to legalize marijuana. In 2016, more than 56% of Yavapai county voters chose to not legalize marijuana.

White dismissed Kahlaf's concerns about other state's growing pains, citing Arizona's "mature " medical marijuana industry that has been working alongside the Arizona Department of Health Services which will also be the regulator for recreational marijuana.

"The industry is interested in doing this responsibly," White said. "You have an initiative that no one should be fearful of."

White said that he anticipates dispensaries to be selling recreationally by March or April.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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