The Legal Status of Marijuana in Arizona
For Arizona residents who are hoping for the full legalization of marijuana, it’s been a bumpy ride. Medical marijuana has been legal since 2010. At that time, Arizona marijuana had been on the ballot four times over roughly 10 years (as Proposition 203), having failed in 2002 and barely passing with slightly over 50% of the vote. (1)
Since then, patients with an official physician’s certification have been able to get marijuana from registered dispensaries for treatment. But Arizona has some of the strictest state laws in the country, and Proposition 205, the bill slated to make recreational marijuana legal, failed to be voted in last year. (2)
What is the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA)?
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) was enacted in 2010 by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and acts as the regulatory framework for the medical marijuana industry in Arizona. (3) The Act ensures that doctors may legally recommend medical marijuana as a treatment for a number of disorders, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, seizures, and PTSD (see full list below).
The Act supports doctors in legally prescribing marijuana as a treatment “equivalent to the use of any other medication under the direction of a physician” (4), so long as there is official proof of a qualifying medical condition. It also outlines the terms with which patients will acquire a Registry Identification Card that allows them to access and consume marijuana legally. And finally, the AMMA defines the rules and regulations around growing and dispensing marijuana for medical purposes in AZ.
Who Can Qualify for a Medical Marijuana Card in Arizona?
Patients 18 years of age or older with a valid Arizona ID and address can register so long as they can supply medical proof of one or more of the following conditions: (5)
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
- Hepatitis C
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Crohn’s disease
- Agitation of Alzheimer’s disease
- Cachexia or wasting syndrome
- Severe and chronic pain (e.g. arthritis, migraines, etc.)
- Severe nausea
- Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy
- Severe or persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Medical marijuana may provide relief for a variety of physical and psychological ailments that are not listed above, including anorexia, arthritis, Asperger’s, autism, diabetes-related illnesses, hepatitis, insomnia, thyroid problems, shingles, and more. If you suffer from something similar to these and you believe that medical marijuana may be an appropriate treatment, or you are a caretaker for someone who could potentially benefit, talk to your doctor.
How to Get a Medical Marijuana Identification Card in Arizona
Patients need to obtain written proof of a diagnosis of one or more of the above, either from their regular physician or via a medical marijuana doctor. A medical marijuana doctor may be an MD or alternative medicine practitioner, such as a naturopath or homeopath. (Note that visiting an alternative practitioner visit will likely cost around $150 per visit as it is not typically covered by insurance.)
The documentation package includes the physician form, an application fee, personal information, and a statement form that affirms that you will not use it in criminal ways. Children under the age of 18, or those who wish to register as a caregiver, must follow a separate set of procedures.
Once the documentation is in order, either the medical marijuana doctor or the patient will submit the required documentation to the ADHS. It should take less than 10 business days to receive your card in the mail if the application is approved. Once you have the card, you will be able to purchase marijuana from registered dispensaries. The card is to be renewed annually. (5, 6)
Visit the ADHS website for more information and to acquire the application forms. (7)
Marijuana Laws and Regulations Specific to Arizona
Since Arizona still has relatively strict marijuana laws in comparison to other states, recreational pot is not legal statewide, and cannabis is still considered an illegal Schedule I drug at the federal level. It’s important that visitors and residents alike take heed of some special state rules that pertain to buying, possessing, growing, and consuming marijuana.
Possession and Consumption
As of November 2017, it is not legal to possess or consume marijuana or marijuana products without a state-issued registry identification card (medical marijuana card). With the card, patients are allowed to obtain 2.5 ounces every 14 days but must only smoke in private. Anyone caught with marijuana and no card is subject to felony charges, as detailed under A.R.S.13-3405. (8)
It is not legal to drive under the influence of any drug or alcohol in the state. However, if the only indication of intoxication is a trace of marijuana in a person’s system, and if they are in possession of a card, they will not likely be punished. (9)
Those with a medical marijuana card are allowed to grow up to 12 plants if they live at least 25 miles away from a dispensary, a distance that is determined “as the crow flies.” Plants are required to be grown in a closed, locked space that is only accessible to the cardholder. Caregivers may also grow and dispense marijuana so long as they are over 21 and do not have a record of drug felonies. (9, 10)
Dispensaries in Arizona are heavily regulated. All dispensaries are nonprofit and must be registered with an Approval to Operate Certification from the ADHS in order to legally sell marijuana products.
The AMMA states that dispensaries are to be limited in quantity to 10% of the number of pharmacies, which means that the maximum number of dispensaries in the state is approximately 124. Hours of dispensaries vary, but may range from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Patients receive a list of Arizona dispensaries on reception of their medical marijuana card. (9, 11)
Schools and Public Grounds
Smoking marijuana is prohibited in all public areas, as well as dispensaries. However, some edible medical marijuana products are legal for public consumption.
The use of marijuana for medical or other purposes has generally been strictly forbidden at any type of public or private educational institution, including post-secondary institutions, unless it’s being used for research purposes. Beyond protecting children and young adults from harm and criminal activity, the purpose of this is to ensure that institutions have access to federal funding. (12)
Many controversial stories have come out about the use and study of marijuana in post-secondary institutions. One instance was the firing of a university professor in 2014, who was researching the effects of the drug on PTSD patients. The professor was let go despite the fact that she had already acquired permission from the Public Health Service. (13)
In early 2017, it was determined that medical marijuana users at post-secondary institutions, while subject to rules by each individual school, cannot be criminally charged. (14)
Employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees who are registered cardholders, unless it is related to a legal business issue in accordance with federal law — for instance if the employee is doing something that threatens the livelihood of the business at large.
Employers are also not allowed to penalize registered patients should they test positive on a drug test; that said, it is illegal to use marijuana on workplace premises. (15)
The Current State of Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Program
As of now (November 2017), the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) reports that the state is currently home to 143,200 medical marijuana patients, with the most being in Maricopa County. More than half of these patients use marijuana to relieve chronic pain, and over 3,600 use it therapeutically specifically for cancer-related problems. In 2017 alone, the program grew by approximately 30,000 patients.
Despite the fact that there are more and more people utilizing the medical marijuana program, there was still a “no” vote on Proposition 205, which would have legalized recreational medical marijuana in 2016. One possible reason behind this is that a large pharmaceutical company, Insys Therapeutics, which manufactures fentanyl among other things, lobbied against the legalization. (16)
There has also been controversy regarding the cost of the registration cards. In November 2017, an appeal was submitted to the state court that claims the $150 annual fee for marijuana cards is too high given the costs needed to run the program. The state collected $24.9 million in fees during the previous year, which is more than double its operational costs. Another argument against high fees is the lack of accessibility for low-income earners in need of medical treatment. (17)
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it legal to use medical marijuana in public in Arizona?
No one is allowed to smoke marijuana publicly or even in dispensaries in Arizona, not even those with a medical marijuana card. Cardholders may, however, consume certain edible products in public.
Do they prescribe medical marijuana for anxiety or depression in Arizona?
Currently, the list of official qualifying conditions that you must have in order to get a medical marijuana card in Arizona does not explicitly cover anxiety. It does, however, cover PTSD and other illnesses that may relate to anxiety or depression. If you believe that you suffer from an illness that is not on the list, it’s worth it to talk to a doctor.
What is medical marijuana prescribed for in Arizona?
Patients 18 years of age or older with a valid AZ ID and address can register so long as they can supply medical proof of conditions, such as seizures, cancer, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, chronic pain, migraines and ALS (see a complete list above or here).
You may also apply for a card as a caregiver, as is the case with several Arizona mothers who use cannabis-based products as a treatment for their children with serious illnesses.
What is the cost of a medical marijuana card in Arizona?
It currently costs $150 annually for regular cardholders or $75 for those who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) program. Note that the initial doctor evaluation visit may also cost a fee if it is not covered by insurance.
How do I open up a medical marijuana dispensary in Arizona?
In 2016, the ADHS awarded 31 new licenses, and 99 were already operating, which means that the state has filled its legal quota for dispensary licenses. It is not known when the state may allow more dispensaries to open.
In general, you should prepare yourself just as you would if you were to open any other type of business. You want to consider how you would secure adequate financing, set up a corporate structure, a business plan, scout for a storefront, and understand and apply for all of the necessary licenses. You will also want to have a thorough understanding about products and all regulations pertaining to growing or acquiring cannabis products that you plan to sell.
It costs approximately $5,000 just to submit the application package for a dispensary.
Consult the ADHS Dispensary FAQ website for details about opening and operating a dispensary. (18)
Can I become an Arizona resident temporarily (to get an MMJ license)?
If you can prove that you are a resident of the state with a permanent address, and you acquire a state ID card, you can apply for a medical marijuana card.
If I live in Arizona and have a new medical marijuana card, can I get free samples from dispensaries, and if so, around how much?
It is possible that dispensaries will have samples on hand, but this will vary from store to store.
Do you know of a pain management doctor in Arizona who will allow medical marijuana use?
You can find a list of medical marijuana doctors in Arizona here.
How hard is it to get a medical marijuana card in Arizona?
So long as you can provide medical proof of a qualifying condition, you are over 18, and a resident of Arizona, you should be able to apply for a medical marijuana card after an in-person evaluation.
Can a truck driver with a commercial driver’s license also legally have a medical marijuana card in Arizona?
A commercial trucking license is a federal license, so it does not apply to state laws. Having a commercial license is more a matter of having a clean driving record than whether or not a person has a medical marijuana card. But since marijuana still is a federal crime, technically, and because marijuana is not allowed in the workplace, it would not be a good idea for a truck driver to be in possession of marijuana while on the job.
Do AZ dispensaries accept registry cards from other states?
People who are visiting from other states and have a valid medical marijuana card can carry their own marijuana (up to 2.5 ounces only) into the state but are not able to buy it.
Can I use my AZ marijuana registry card to purchase marijuana in other states that have not yet legalized recreational pot?
States which have recognized medical marijuana programs typically will allow you to possess and consume small amounts of marijuana, so long as you have your card. However, the only two states that allow you to purchase at dispensaries are Nevada and Hawaii (as of January 2018). Note that the sale may be up to the discretion of the dispensary owner.
If you are traveling out of state, be sure to familiarize yourself with the state’s possession and purchasing laws before traveling.