Arizonans getting higher, new pot data suggests The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Arizonans getting higher, new pot data suggests

January 26th, 2021 Mesa Tribune Staff
Arizonans getting higher, new pot data suggests
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By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

Arizonans legally smoked, ate or otherwise consumed nearly 106 tons of marijuana last year.

That’s up 27 percent from 2019 and nearly double the amount sold in 2018.

And that consumption likely will grow exponentially as Arizona adults could be purchasing legal weed for recreational this week.

State health officials began accepting applications Tuesday to run some of the more than 120 recreational sites that voters agreed to in November allow to sell marijuana to anyone.

On paper, the state has up to 60 days to review and approve. But agency spokesman Steve Elliott told Capitol Media Services it’s not going to take anywhere near that long.

“Our goal is not to be a barrier,’’ he said.

The process should be fairly simple as the initial batch of retail sales licenses will be going to shops already set up to provide medical marijuana. These are facilities where the owners and the employees already have been vetted by the state.

All this is a direct result of passage of Proposition 207. Approved by a 3-2 margin, it allows anyone 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or six plants.

Only thing is, there is not yet a place where Arizonans who do not already have a card as a medical marijuana user can legally purchase it.

That is what will change once the state approves the new recreational licenses, making flowers, edibles and other mixtures as available as a head of lettuce – sort of.

It still requires presentation of a state-recognized identification card proving age, though that does not have to be from Arizona.

And there’s that one-ounce limit.

Copperstate Farms attorney Ryan Hurley acknowledged that nothing in the law tracks individual sales to the point that one dispensary can find out if another one just sold an ounce to the same buyer.

Possession of more than an ounce remains illegal, though anything up to 2-1/2 ounces is a petty offense, subject only to a fine.

The new law creates a fiscal conundrum of sorts for the state’s nearly 300,000 medical marijuana users: Should they keep their state-issued cards?

The new law, however, requires imposition of a 16 percent excise tax on recreational sales. And assuming a price of $200 an ounce – a figure that could vary widely – that additional fee amounts to $32.

So that makes sales to medical marijuana users cheaper.

But Hurley said it’s not that simple.

Anyone wanting a medical marijuana card first has to get a diagnosis from a doctor that he or she has a condition for which the drug can be recommended. These range from glaucoma and AIDS to severe and chronic pain.

Hurley figures an office visit can set someone back about $150.

Then there’s the requirement for an identification card issued by the state, which carries its own $150 biennial fee.

“I’m guessing most people that have their cards will keep them until they expire,’’ he said. “Unless you’re a real heavy user, some people will probably not renew them.’’

In either case, customers should come armed with cash.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. And banks which are subject to federal regulation have been unwilling to accept credit card transactions from dispensaries.

Taxes aside, there is one other advantage to keeping a medical marijuana card. It allows individuals to purchase up to 2- 1/2 ounces every two weeks, versus being limited to possession of no more than an ounce at any one time.

The latest report from the state Department of Health Services has no figures on how much Arizonans spent, as any financial data from the state-regulated dispensaries is confidential.

But if an ounce of average weed goes for $200 – and there’s a whole lot of variables – that’s more than $675 million expended in 2020 on medical marijuana.

All that is just the stuff state health officials know about, based on the reports it gets from the more than 100 legal dispensaries around the state. The big unknown is how many medical marijuana patients are getting their drugs from other sources which may be more convenient — or cheaper.

And none of that counts for those who are buying and using the drug illegally.

Other findings in the new report also show that:

On average, more marijuana transactions occur in December than any other month;

Male patients outnumber female by 3-to-2.

And if you divide up the number of legal medical marijuana patients by the amount of the drug sold in Arizona law year, the average user consumed close to an ounce a month.

Health department figures also show that the vast majority of what was purchased last year was in whole marijuana form, meaning the leaves and flowers that can be smoked or made into tea. Only about 10 percent was in other forms, including edibles like candy bars and drinks, as well as pills and liquids.

The increase in usage has been constant.

Sales totaled 87,000 in 2017 and about 58,600 for the year after that. And that was a 52 percent increase over 2015 sales which, in turn, were double the 2014 numbers.

The number of patients with medical marijuana cards from the state in each county varies from 196,397 in Maricopa to 275 in LaPaz, according to the Department of Health Services.

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