Arizona Says No to Recreational Marijuana … Or Did It?

By Mike Mogliotti

Marijuana advocates in nine states eagerly anticipated Election Day 2016. 

Measures legalizing the use of medical marijuana were on the ballot in four states. Residents in five more, including Arizona, were voting on laws to make recreational and personal use of marijuana legal.

And the measures passed in every state—but one. Arizona was the lone holdout. 

Arizona’s Proposition 205, would have allowed adults (21 or older) to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, grow it in their homes and give it to other adults. 

But when the polls closed and the more than 2.1 million votes were tallied, the measure lost 52% to 48%. The state’s two largest counties split their votes—with Maricopa (Phoenix) voting no and Pima (Tucson) saying yes. The only other county to pass the measure was Coconino.

Millions Spent … and Millions Lost
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spent more than $5 million.

The detractors spent more than $6 million. Among those funding the anti-marijuana campaign were Discount Tire; casino magnate Sheldon Adelson; Insys Therapeutics, makers of synthetic THC and the painkiller, fentanyl; the Arizona Chamber of Commerce; Randy Kendrick, wife of the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and the Arizona Republican Party.

The millions spent against Prop 205 was more than the total amount spent against recreational legislation in Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada combined.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, the state of Arizona has given up about $113 million in annual tax revenue—the amount the state would have received if marijuana was taxed at 15%. That number would have jumped to $188 million if it was taxed at 25%. 

Did the Measure Really Fail?
According to the Secretary of State’s office, more than 628,000 ballots still need to be counted. With a difference of about 83,000 votes, the potential remains for Prop 205 to pass. But the final results won’t be known until mid to late week of November 15–19.

What’s Next?
When all votes are counted, if Prop 205 ultimately fails, advocates will probably try again. But not until 2018 or, more likely, 2020 as a presidential election generally brings a higher voter turnout. So while Arizona is on the wrong side of history, legal medical marijuana, which the state passed in 2010, remains in effect.