two dispensary employees wearing masks filling paper bags with orders AP Photo/Richard Vogel

Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona continue, while existing medical dispensaries adapt to social distancing guidelines.

As marijuana enthusiasts are left having to celebrate their 4/20 holiday at home Monday, there’s one thing they can still celebrate: the ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona reportedly already has enough signatures to make it on the ballot this fall. 

While many other initiatives have struggled to get the required number of signatures due to social distancing guidelines put in place in early March and blocks on attempts to gather support online, the Smart and Safe Act hit its threshold earlier this year, according to the Phoenix New Times

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The measure would legalize the sale, possession, and consumption of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults ages 21 and older. Campaign organizers say legalization would bring the state $3 billion in additional tax revenue over 10 years, as marijuana purchases would be subject to a 16% excise tax under the act.

But legalization would not be a free-for-all. The measure still includes many restrictions, such as a ban on smoking marijuana in public places, restrictions on edible products and packaging to protect children, increases of penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana, protections for workplaces to maintain drug-free environments, and a 10mg limit on the amount of THC (the chemical that gets people high) in edibles. 

Although similar legislation ailed to get enough votes in 2016, chances are looking better this year. An OH Predictive Insights poll from September 2019 found that 50% of Arizonans supported the legalization of recreational marijuana, while 10% were undecided and 40% said no. 

Swaying those undecided voters may prove difficult in the lead-up to the election as the pandemic has halted many campaign efforts, like in-person information sessions and other events, but efforts to spread the word continue online and in other media.

“We have been in far more precarious positions, personally, professionally, than to legalize marijuana,” Strategies 360 Senior Vice President Stacy Pearson, the spokeswoman for the legalization campaign, told the Phoenix New Times. “The industry has been extraordinarily supportive and will spend what it takes to win.”

How is Arizona’s Current Marijuana Industry Handling the Pandemic?

Although the fight to legalize recreational marijuana is still on, voters approved the sale of medical marijuana a decade ago. Dispensaries were designated as essential businesses under Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order and have remained open during the pandemic. 

Dispensaries have been putting social distancing and other health guidelines into practice, just as doctor’s offices, grocery stores, and other businesses have been. These include having customers stand six feet apart or wait in their car for their order, having employees wear masks and gloves, and limiting hours and the number of people who can come inside at once.  

While panic buying initially gave dispensaries a bump in sales, the industry still has concerns over its financial viability during a pandemic. The businesses are used to seeing Black Friday-like sales on April 20, but with customers staying at home and events canceled, it’s unlikely they’ll see as high of a spike. Dispensaries that are already financially on the ropes also don’t qualify for federal coronavirus relief aid due to marijuana still being an illegal drug at a federal level. 

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The industry has yet to see how customers buy (or don’t buy) marijuana during an economic downturn. Steve White, CEO of Arizona-based Harvest Health & Recreation, told The Associated Press he’s watching to see how consumers treat marijuana when money runs short.

“Do people buy less cannabis, or does it become more ingrained as part of their daily life?” White asked.

But while economic activity around 4/20 may be falling short of other years, there are still ways to mark the holiday. Willie Nelson, the country singer who owns his own line of marijuana products, is hosting a 4-hour-and-20-minute “cannabis-centric” virtual variety show Monday afternoon (started at 2:20 p.m. Arizona time/4:20 p.m. Central time) featuring celebrities including Matthew McConaughey, Kacey Musgraves, Billy Ray Cyrus, Beto O’Rourke, and more.


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