Arizona adults could be purchasing legal weed for recreational use by the end of the week.
State health officials began accepting applications Tuesday to run some of the more than 120 recreational sites that voters agreed to allow in November to sell marijuana to anyone.
On paper, the state has up to 60 days to review and approve. But agency spokesman Steve Elliott told Capitol Media Services it’s not going to take anywhere near that long.
“Our goal is not to be a barrier,” he said.
So could licenses be in place and sales begin this week?
“We’ll see,” said Elliott.
The process should be fairly simple as the initial batch of retail sales licenses will be going to shops already set up to provide medical marijuana. These are places where the owners and the employees already have been vetted by the state.
But it’s not automatic.
Attorney Ryan Hurley who is with Copperstate Farms, said there are technical issues. For example, those people who are licensed as a “dispensary agent” under the medical marijuana law now need to apply to be a “facility agent.” That means additional paperwork.
Hurley said, though, he sees no reason why legal sales won’t start next week — or even as early as this weekend.
All this is a direct result of passage of Proposition 207. Approved by a 3-2 margin, it allows anyone 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or six plants.
Officially speaking, the law took effect last month after the election results were formally certified. So, as of early December, no adult could be arrested for having an ounce of marijuana or less.
Only thing is, there is not yet a place where Arizonans who do not already have a card as a medical marijuana user can legally purchase it.
That is what will change once the state approves the new recreational licenses, making flowers, edibles and other mixtures as available as a head of lettuce.
It still requires presentation of a state-recognized identification card proving age, though that does not have to be from Arizona.
And, of course, there’s that one-ounce limit.
Still, Hurley acknowledged, there are ways around that latter restriction for those who are so inclined. He said nothing in the law tracks individual sales to the point that one dispensary can find out if another one just sold an ounce of the drug to the same buyer.
“The onus is on the individual,” said Hurley.
And, of course, possession of more than an ounce remains illegal, though anything up to 2 1/2 ounces is a petty offense, subject only to a fine.
The new law creates a fiscal conundrum of sorts for the state’s nearly 300,000 medical marijuana users: Should they keep their state-issued cards?
Most dispensaries are expected to charge the same amount, regardless of whether the drugs are being sold for medical or recreational use.
The new law, however, requires imposition of a 16% excise tax on recreational sales. And assuming a price of $200 an ounce — a figure that could vary widely — that additional fee amounts to $32.
So that makes sales to medical marijuana users cheaper.
But Hurley said it’s not that simple.
Anyone wanting a medical marijuana card first has to get a diagnosis from a doctor that he or she has a condition for which the drug can be recommended. These range from glaucoma and AIDS to severe and chronic pain.
Hurley figures an office visit can set someone back about $150.
Then there’s the requirement for an identification card issued by the state, which carries its own $150 biennial fee.
“I’m guessing most people that have their cards will keep them until they expire,” he said. “Unless you’re a real heavy user, some people will probably not renew them.”
In either case, customers should come armed with cash.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. And banks which are subject to federal regulation have been unwilling to accept credit card transactions from dispensaries.
Taxes aside, there is one other advantage to keeping a medical marijuana card. It allows individuals to purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces every two weeks, versus being limited to possession of no more than an ounce at any one time.
Hurley’s Copperstate Farms which operates the four Sol Flower medical marijuana dispensaries are hoping to be among the first to open their doors to recreational users. He said they submitted their applications on Tuesday.