Prescription marijuana samples sit on a shelf in Giving Tree show in Mesa

If you’re on the fence about whether to vote yes or no on Proposition 205—the Nov. 8 ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona—you’re not getting a lot of useful information through one-minute TV ads.

You’re probably not inclined to slog through the initiative’s 20 pages of legal jargon, either.

Fortunately, Will Humble has done that. He developed the regulations for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act as former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. At a recent Mini-Medical School lecture at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix, Humble impartially broke down Prop. 205 into everyday language.

If it passes, the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act would interface with the existing medical marijuana program, so it helps to review where that program is at.

After medical marijuana was narrowly approved by Arizona voters in 2010, the first dispensary opened December 2012. Today, the DHS has licensed about 90 dispensaries. The department is expected to issue certificates for about 30 more dispensaries this year, bringing the total to about 120.

If Prop. 205 passes, dispensaries get first crack at becoming retail marijuana stores.

The DHS has issued about 100,000 qualified patient cards. To qualify for medical marijuana, patients have to see a doctor yearly for a diagnosis of an approved medical condition, such as chronic pain or PTSD, then apply online for a card, which costs $150 per year.

Humble said medical marijuana patients can continue that routine if Prop. 205 passes and avoid paying the 15 percent surcharge on retail marijuana. But, he added, “I think you’ll see a lot of people give up the cards just because of the hassle factor.”

Possession basics

If approved by voters, the new law allows anyone 21 or older to buy up to one ounce of marijuana or up to five grams of concentrated marijuana, beginning March 2, 2018. Medical marijuana patients can continue to buy up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks.

Anyone 21 or older would be able to grow up to six of their own plants, although landlords are allowed to prohibit growing plants on their property.

The new law decriminalizes current possession law, which states that possession of any amount of marijuana, even one joint, is a felony. But, in practice, persons who are charged with small amounts are usually offered probation after completing a treatment program.

Possession of more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana by anyone 21 or older who isn’t a dispensary agent or a medical marijuana caregiver would be a felony.

Anyone 21 or older who isn’t a medical cardholder and possesses more than one ounce but less than 2.5 ounces could be charged with a petty offense and fined up to $300.

Anyone under 21 possessing less than an ounce could be charged with a petty offense and fined $300; more than one ounce could bring a felony charge.

It would still be illegal for anyone to possess or use marijuana on school grounds and public spaces.

The law does not authorize persons to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by marijuana, nor does it prevent the imposition of civil or criminal penalties. The criteria for determining impairment could change, Humble noted.

“Over time, I think it would be good to establish a THC blood standard like they have with alcohol,” he said.

Workplaces can still enforce rules that restrict the consumption of marijuana by employees.

Retail basics

If 205 passes, retail licenses would be limited to 10 percent of the number of Series 9 liquor licenses, putting the number of allowed marijuana retailers in Arizona at 147. That number would be capped until 2020.

Operating medical marijuana dispensaries can reorganize and apply for retail licenses. They could operate as combined medical/retail establishments. Until Dec. 1, 2017, only reorganized dispensaries can apply for a license. Other applicants can then jump in for remaining retail licenses up to the 147 limit.

Reorganized dispensaries also automatically qualify for the unlimited cultivation tier. New marijuana retailers would be required to start at the low-volume production tier. They can progress to mid-volume and unlimited by showing that they are selling 85 percent or more of what they grow.

Adam Kinsey, campaign manager of Yes on 205/Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said the initiative was structured this way to take advantage of an established, successful medical marijuana network.

“They’ve proven the ability to run regulated marijuana businesses,” Kinsey said.

If the initiative that legalized marijuana in Colorado two years ago had a flaw, he said, it allowed for too many retailers.

“We don’t want a pot shop on every corner.”

Marijuana retailers are required to collect a 15 percent tax on sales. Established medical marijuana dispensaries in the East Valley include Harvest of Tempe, which recently opened a second dispensary in Scottsdale Airpark, and the Giving Tree, with facilities in Mesa and Phoenix.

Regulatory basics

If approved, 205 would create the new Arizona Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control and a seven-member Marijuana Commission within the agency.

The commission would have three members involved in marijuana businesses and four members with no financial interest in any marijuana establishment. The department would take over the existing medical marijuana program in September 2017.

The agency must also adopt the administrative code for the program by that date.

“That sounds like a lot of time,” Humble said. “It’s really pretty compressed.”

Consider that the agency has to develop, and eventually enforce, rules and laws related to the production, manufacture, transportation, sale, storage, distribution and testing of recreational marijuana. Humble was given 120 days to adopt rules for the medical marijuana program.

The new department would initially be funded by the more than $12 million currently sitting in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Fund. No state general funds would be used. Once revenue starts flowing in from the 15 percent tax, the department would use that to pay operating costs and direct excess money to the Marijuana Fund.

The Marijuana Fund would be distributed: 40 percent to school districts and charter schools for K-12 education; 40 percent to school districts and charter schools for full-day kindergarten; 20 percent to the Department of Health Services for education about the harms of substance abuse.

The Tax Foundation estimates that recreational marijuana sales will put $113 million per year into the Marijuana Fund’s coffers. The Arizona Legislature’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee projects a more conservative $53.4 million.

A group of 23 state representatives and 15 state senators summarized the opposition viewpoint to Prop. 205 in a recent letter to the East Valley Tribune at tiny.cc/marijuanaletter.

Opponents’ main fears are that legalization of recreational marijuana will lead to increased teen use and a rash of marijuana-related traffic accidents and fatalities. They also object to the new layer of state bureaucracy that Prop. 205 would create.

– Reach Mike Butler at 480-898-5630 or atmbutler@timespublications.com.

– Comment on this article and like the East Valley Tribune on Facebook and follow EVTNow on Twitter.

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