Everything You Need to Know About Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Laws

Everything You Need to Know About Arizona’s Marijuana Laws

After 14 years of state legislative shenanigans, Arizona voters passed Proposition 203 in 2010, thereby legalizing marijuana for medical use within the state. The battle for recreational marijuana continues, though. In 2016, Proposition 205—which would have allowed anyone over the age of 21 to possess and use up to an ounce—failed to pass. The margin of defeat was only about three percent, leaving open a genuine possibility that Arizona could go green in the relatively near future.

In the meantime, it is still illegal to possess marijuana for any nonmedical purpose. Conflicts between state and federal governments aside, Arizona law is very clear-cut on who is allowed to purchase and use the substance, who is not, and the penalties for unauthorized possession and consumption.

legal trouble from cannabis use in arizona

Qualifying for Medical Marijuana

By Arizona law, medical marijuana can be prescribed to alleviate the debilitating symptoms of certain diseases and the side effects of their treatments. These medical conditions currently consist of cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Conditions and treatments can also qualify as debilitating if they cause cachexia (wasting syndrome), severe chronic pain and/or nausea, seizures (including epileptic seizures), and severe and persistent muscle spasms (characteristic of, but not limited to, those present in multiple sclerosis).

If you suffer from one or more of these conditions, as diagnosed by a doctor, then the next step is obtaining written certification. You can get this from an allopathic, osteopathic, homeopathic, or naturopathic physician who possesses a valid Arizona state medical license. You and your prescribing physician must have an established doctor-patient relationship; in practice, this amounts to an in-person visit. (Follow-up appointments may be made in-person or conducted online via a telemedicine portal, which allows patients more medical privacy and accommodates anyone living far from his or her doctor.)

With documentation in hand, the next step is filing an application on the Arizona Department of Health Services’ website. A record of prior marijuana-related charges or convictions does not prevent a person from receiving their medical marijuana certification. You will need to pay a $150 fee, but this is reduced to $75 if you’re enrolled in the state’s Nutrition Assistance program. You’ll also need to provide photo identification and attestation that you will use your medical marijuana lawfully and responsibly.

picture of mmj perscriptionAnd then you can go make yourself a sandwich, because you’ve done everything necessary to get a medical marijuana card in Arizona. If you meet the criteria and fill out the paperwork, you’ll receive your registration card in a few weeks, at which point you are a qualifying patient. Along with the card, patients receive a list of all licensed dispensaries from which they can legally purchase medical marijuana. Registration is valid for one year, at which point it must be renewed.

Card-carrying patients are allowed to purchase, possess, and use up to two and a half ounces (70.87 grams) of marijuana every two weeks. In addition to flowers—of which there are many, many strains available in Arizona’s dispensaries—qualifying patients can also purchase and enjoy concentrated oils for cooking and vaporizing. Premade edibles like candies and baked goods are also available, as are topical creams, lotions, and oils that count cannabis as an ingredient.

The Specific Dos and Don’ts of MMJ Use

People who are not Arizona residents cannot register as qualifying patients. Out-of-state visitors who are registered to possess and use medical marijuana in their home states may do so in Arizona, but they are not able to purchase cannabis or any other derived goods while in the Grand Canyon State.

Within these confines, qualifying patients may enjoy their medical marijuana and marijuana products only on private property. Public consumption of any cannabis-based products is still against the law. That includes—and this should go without saying—consuming marijuana while operating a vehicle, which is not only dangerous to yourself and others but still quite illegal. Anything a qualifying patient purchases from a dispensary must be consumed inside the state’s borders; what happens in Arizona stays in Arizona.

If qualifying patients follow these simple, common-sense rules, Arizona authorities will have no room or reason to hassle them. Likewise, employers cannot penalize registered cardholders for coming up positive in a drug test. However, medical marijuana users are still obliged not to use, possess, or be under the influence while on the clock, at a worksite or place of business, etc.

Bear in mind, though, that qualifying patients can incur federal penalties for medical marijuana use. Arizona’s laws are in open contradiction to the United States government’s regulations and restrictions—for now, at least.

Personal Cultivation

Arizona’s 120-plus dispensaries also provide seeds and clones for qualifying patients who wish to grow their own medical marijuana. To do so, however, a patient must live farther than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary. Since this distance may prove prohibitive to patients with more severe conditions, they are allowed to cultivate and harvest up to twelve of their own plants.

personal cultivation lawsIf you’re a patient with a green thumb and choose to go this route, you will need to keep your crop in a closet, cabinet, greenhouse, or some similar space that is fully enclosed and can be locked. Whatever form your grow room may take, it can only be accessible to qualified patients and certified caregivers. If you wish to grow marijuana outdoors, you can do so, but the plants must be fully encompassed and hidden from sight by ten-foot-tall solid walls. The only means of ingress must be a locking metal door or gate that is at least one inch thick.

If you find yourself shoulder-deep in cultivars and a dispensary opens within 25 miles, you may continue growing until you renew your card. If you live outside the no-grow radius but move within range of a dispensary, you’re going to need to update your card, at which point you will likewise be disqualified from growing your own plants.

If you are able and choose to cultivate your own cannabis, you are still able to purchase it. Your card will allow you to obtain flowers, edibles, and everything else that the dispensaries have on offer.

Designated Caregivers

A qualifying patient may specify one (and only one) caregiver for the purposes of obtaining and administering medical marijuana. This caregiver can be any person over the age of 21 who does not have an excluded felony offense (a violent crime or felony violation of state or federal substance control law, within certain limitations) on his or her record. A designated caregiver may purchase, possess, and transport medical marijuana, but they are still prohibited from consuming it.

One person may be the designated caregiver for multiple qualifying patients, but the caregiver must obtain a separate registration card for each individual patient. Caregivers are also allowed to grow plants for any number of his or her patients. Moreover, they may do so even if they, the caregiver, live within 25 miles of a dispensary, provided that the patient for whom they are growing lives outside the proscribed radius.

Perhaps most importantly, a qualifying patient may act as a designated caregiver for another patient. I mean, if you’re going to the dispensary to pick up anyway …

Non-Medical Marijuana Penalties

Barring the circumstances already discussed, it is still illegal to knowingly possess, use, produce, sell, or transport any usable amount of marijuana for nonmedical purposes, as per Arizona Revised Statute 13-3405. Any marijuana offense incurs a fine ranging between $750 and $150,000 in addition to the penalties shown in the table below.

Quantity Offense Severity Felony classification Jail time
Less than 2 lbs Possession Misdemeanor or felony Class 6 6 – 18 months
Intent to sell Felony Class 4 1.5 – 3 years
Cultivation Misdemeanor or felony Class 5 9 – 24 months
Transportation, sale Felony Class 3 2.5 – 7 years
2 lbs – 4 lbs Possession Misdemeanor or felony Class 5 9 – 24 months
Intent to sell Felony Class 3 2.5 – 7 years
Cultivation Felony Class 4 1.5 – 3 years
Transportation, sale Felony Class 2 4 – 10 years
Over 4 lbs Possession Felony Class 4 1.5 – 3 years
Intent to sell Felony Class 2 4 – 10 years
Cultivation Felony Class 3 2.5 – 7 years
Transportation, sale Felony Class 2 4 – 10 years

Under circumstances in which possession or cultivation could be considered a misdemeanor or a felony, the state gets to decide the offense’s status. Possession or sale of marijuana within 300 feet of a school, or on public property within 1,000 feet of a school, or at any bus stop that services students will add an additional $2,000 fine and another year to a jail sentence, without possibility of parole. Possession of paraphernalia—which encompasses anything used to cultivate, distribute, or use marijuana—can be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony (Class 6) and incurs six to eighteen months of jail time and a fine of up to $150,000. Note that, although the law allows room for quantities above two pounds to qualify for personal use, amounts over this threshold are typically considered to be for sale and distribution—bad news if you’re not a licensed dispensary.

The good news is that Arizona does offer some forgiveness for certain marijuana offenses. Proposition 200 was Arizona’s first foray into the legalization of medical marijuana, but it also established a (relatively) more lenient judicial attitude toward recreational cannabis users. Now, first- and second-time nonviolent offenders are protected from jail time. Rather than being punished, they are placed on probation and provided with substance abuse treatment.

Additionally, in the case of felonies, the state may choose to defer prosecution and instead place the offender in a rehabilitation program. This program, which lasts up to six months, mandates participation in substance abuse counseling, a three-hour educational seminar, mandatory drug screenings, and an appropriate 12-step program. If the offender successfully completes this course of rehabilitation, the state may choose to dismiss the original charges brought against the individual.

As is often the case in law, there are ways around these penalties and programs. As noted above, to be convicted, a person must knowingly possess a useable amount of marijuana, and these caveats allow some wiggle room when it comes to arbitration. However, contesting guilt in court disqualifies the accused from deferred prosecution, so offenders should choose their strategies wisely. Such nuances are best left to the professionals; if you find yourself in trouble for marijuana possession or use, your best course of action is to contact an attorney who can provide you with qualified assistance.

Let there be no doubt, recreational marijuana still remains staunchly illegal in the state of Arizona, and—given the state legislature’s long-term opposition to medical marijuana—it may remain so for some time, regardless of voter opinion. Meanwhile, California, Colorado, and Nevada have hopped on the recreational bandwagon. With legal, easily accessible marijuana available practically next door, the state of Arizona may soon come under increased pressure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, for economic reasons if not for others.


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