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Posted 06/23/2022 in Criminal Defense by Scott Stewart

Is Marijuana Still Illegal in Arizona?

Is it legal to use marijuana in Arizona? This seems like it should be a straightforward yes–or–no question, but the current state of the law is surprisingly complicated. The answer is actually “yes–and–no.” It’s legal. It’s also illegal. So before you light up or munch on that edible, let’s consider some of the ways cannabis use is, and is not, legal.  

 It’s Legal & It’s Illegal

In 2010, a majority of Arizona citizens voted to allow individuals’ medical use of marijuana. Then, in 2020, Arizonans voted to allow personal recreational pot use. This new law even allows most individuals with a previous marijuana-related criminal conviction to have it expunged. 

Regarding medical marijuana, Arizona law allows registered patients (and caregivers) to possess two and one-half ounces of usable marijuana. Some eligible patients may grow up to 12 marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked facility.  

Patients are eligible to use medical marijuana if they have one or more of the following debilitating conditions: 

  • Cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, or agitation of Alzheimer’s disease
  • A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following: 
    1. Cachexia or wasting syndrome 
    2. Severe and chronic pain 
    3. Severe nausea
    4. Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy.
    5. Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis
  • Other medical conditions added by the department 

Arizona law now also allows personal, recreational consumption of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. 

Under this provision, adults can possess, consume, purchase, process, or manufacture marijuana for their use (with a limit of five ounces of marijuana concentrate). They can grow up to 12 plants in their residence. People can give another adult up to one ounce of usable pot or six (or fewer) plants, as long as the gift is free and is not advertised to the public. 

However, under both the medical marijuana and recreational marijuana laws, there are conditions where pot use remains illegal.

If this seems confusing, think of it this way: It is legal to sell, possess, and use alcohol in Arizona. Yet there are many ways you can still be convicted of a crime relating to the sale, possession, and use of alcohol. The same principle applies to marijuana—but even more so. 

First and foremost, marijuana use remains illegal for anyone under the age of 21. 

State laws and regulations prohibiting pot use at work and in other contexts are still good laws. 

It’s illegal to smoke pot in public places. Really, the law intends that marijuana users can only consume pot at home. But at the same time, landlords can prohibit marijuana use in their buildings. 

Just as driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol is unlawful, driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal. And the standard for a cannabis-related DUI is to be impaired by “the slightest degree.” You may not even have to be impaired to be convicted of a vehicle-related crime because consuming marijuana or its products while operating a car, boat, or plane is barred.

Similarly, using marijuana as a passenger is also prohibited. 

The State Approves, But the Feds Still Say No

Remember that, under federal law, marijuana is still illegal. And in any situation where federal and state laws conflict, federal law is superior and negates the state law. 

Therefore, Arizonan pot users can be arrested by federal prosecutors, and the passage of the state law doesn’t change that.

Instead, in 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that, for states that have legalized marijuana, it would limit prosecution to more serious pot-related crimes—such as those relating to gangs and cartels. 

But again—this is just a policy of non-enforcement. Marijuana use remains against federal law. And this can impact Arizonans, even in surprising ways.

For example, you can’t use marijuana if you live in federally subsidized housing. A recent report found that at least six Arizona federal housing authorities (Phoenix, Glendale, Tucson, Chandler, Yuma, and Yuma County) expressly prohibit residents from using pot, and residents can be evicted if they consume it in any form.   

So the short answer is that pot use is, and isn’t, legal in Arizona.

That’s why, if you are wondering about marijuana use in Arizona, it’s best to call a lawyer. If you have any questions, such as about what’s allowable for personal use, how to set up a licensed dispensary, or you would like to explore expunging a conviction from your record—contact our office (by phone at: 602-548-3400) to discuss your case. For a confidential consultation with one of our attorneys, call today.

Scott David Stewart is an attorney in Phoenix, Arizona.  Mr. Stewart’s criminal defense practice division focuses on DUI, drug possession, misdemeanor and felony crimes.  

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