PHOENIX (AP) — Legal sales of recreational marijuana in Arizona started Friday under licenses approved by the state Health Services Department.
The health department announced it had issued 73 licenses in nine of the state's 15 counties under provisions of the marijuana legalization measure passed by voters in November. Most went to existing medical marijuana dispensaries that can start selling recreational pot right away.
“It’s an exciting step for those that want to participate in that program,” Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said Friday.
Under the terms of Proposition 207, people 21 and older can legally possess up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana or a smaller quantity of “concentrates” such as hashish and can grow their own plants. Possession of between 1 ounce and 2.5 ounces (70 grams) is a petty offense carrying a maximum $300 fine.
Approval of the marijuana measure came four years after Arizona voters narrowly defeated a recreational pot legalization proposal. Medical marijuana has been legal in Arizona since 2010.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and GOP leaders of the state Legislature strongly opposed the voter initiative, but 60% of the state's voters approved it.
The measure was backed by advocates for the legal marijuana industry and criminal justice reform advocates who argued that Arizona's harsh marijuana laws were out of step with the nation. Arizona was the only state that still allowed a felony charge for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana, although most cases were prosecuted as lower-level misdemeanors.
The vast majority of the licenses were issued in Maricopa County. Other counties with dispensaries now permitted to sell marijuana are Cochise, Coconino, Gila, Pima, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma counties.
The state said six additional applications it received after its new licensing process opened are still being reviewed.
Voters in New Jersey, South Dakota and Montana also approved making possession of recreational marijuana legal last November, joining 11 other states where it was already legal.
Arizona prosecutors dropped thousands of marijuana possession cases after the measure was approved. Possession in the state technically became legal when the election results were certified on Nov. 30 but there was no legal way to purchase marijuana.