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Arizona legalizes recreational marijuana, but shops can't stock it yet

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Arizona legalizes recreational marijuana, but shops can't stock it yet

  • The owners of Tucson’s Downtown Dispensary plan to apply for a recreational license in January, after the state health department writes rules for recreational retail sales.
    Brad Poole/Courthouse NewsThe owners of Tucson’s Downtown Dispensary plan to apply for a recreational license in January, after the state health department writes rules for recreational retail sales.

Cannabis users in Arizona will only have to wait a couple weeks to smoke out legally under a new law passed Nov. 3, but they shouldn’t hold their breath for shops.

Those are several months away.

Proposition 207, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, which passed by a 60%–40% margin in last week’s election, will allow adults to travel with up to an ounce and grow six plants at home. It will create a recreational market managed by the state Department of Health Services, revamp penalties for illegal possession, reduce penalties for minors, and channel an estimated $166 million annually into public health, safety and education.

Although possession and home cultivation will be legal the day the election is certified — no later than Nov. 30 by state law — retail shops are still months away.

“I’m not putting too much time into the application process yet,” said Mohit Asnani, co-owner of Tucson’s Downtown Dispensary, where medical patients have been buying cannabis products for seven years.

The state’s 123 medical shops will get first crack at recreational sales, but they won’t even be able to apply for licenses until January, after the Department of Health Services writes the rules.

Asnani opened Downtown in 2013, when there were about 35,000 registered patients among the state’s 7.3 million residents. Since then, the medical market has increased to 280,000 patients statewide, according to the state health department.

Adding the recreational customers won’t be a sea change, Asnani said.

“I think it will be an incremental change for us,” he said.

Although the 17-page law creates a framework for recreational sales, it doesn’t include many details, which will be added by DHS in coming months. Some rules, such as building security, logging and tracking of products, and transportation, are expected to mirror the medical program.

And some of the rules — such as a 10mg per dose limit on recreational edibles — will differ from the medical program.

In addition to state rules, cities and counties will have to create local ordinances. Some places, like the Tucson suburb Sahuarita, where 30,000 residents live about 15 miles outside the city, have already banned new recreational shops, but the new law prevents them from banning sales at existing medical dispensaries. Tucson has not announced a framework for recreational sales.

Ryan Hurley, attorney for commercial grower Copperstate Farms, helped write the new law, although he wasn’t the main author. Hurley also helped pass the state’s medical law in 2010 and worked toward a failed 2016 recreational law.

“I’ve been working pretty hard for this day for 10 years,” he said.

Copperstate claims their 40-acre farm — a former vegetable greenhouse complex in Snowflake, Ariz. — is the largest indoor cultivation in the nation. The 80-acre property produces about 1,000 pounds of cannabis per week for 50-60 dispensaries, Hurley said.

Copperstate is ready for expansion. Hurley expects the cannabis market to double in the first year then eventually triple or quadruple. Asnani, who sells Copperstate cannabis, agrees.

“I think that’s a fair assessment,” Asnani said.

Manuel Soto, 66, is a medical patient in Tucson. Although he will continue to buy medical cannabis for his back pain, because he will avoid the 16% recreational excise tax, he supported the recreational law.

He has long supported recreational cannabis and likes that the new law takes away penalties for minor possession, which can be a felony in Arizona for any amount.

“I’ve been voting for it every time, forever,” Soto said Friday.

“I think it’s long overdue.”

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