Arizona launched its legal recreational marijuana industry this Friday, when the state’s Health and Services Department announced it had issued 73 cannabis business licenses.
The licenses were granted to businesses in nine of the state’s 15 counties under provisions of the marijuana legalization measure passed by voters in November. Most went to existing medical marijuana dispensaries that can start selling recreational pot right away.
“It’s an exciting step for those that want to participate in that program,” Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said Friday.
Arizona was the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana in the United States, under Proposition 207. Of the four other states that legalized adult use this November, it is the first to launch sales.
The terms of Proposition 207 dictate that people 21 and older can legally possess up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana or a smaller quantity of “concentrates” such as hashish, and can grow their own plants. Possession of between 1 ounce and 2.5 ounces (70 grams) is a petty offense carrying a maximum $300 fine.
Possession in the state technically became legal when the election results were certified on Nov. 30 but there was no legal way to purchase marijuana.
The vast majority of the licenses were issued in Maricopa County. Other counties with dispensaries now permitted to sell marijuana are Cochise, Coconino, Gila, Pima, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma counties.
The state said six additional applications it received after its new licensing process opened are still being reviewed.
Approval of the marijuana measure came four years after Arizona voters narrowly defeated a recreational pot legalization proposal. Medical marijuana has been legal in Arizona since 2010.
The measure was backed by advocates for the legal marijuana industry and criminal justice reform advocates who argued that Arizona’s harsh marijuana laws were out of step with the nation. Arizona was the only state that still allowed a felony charge for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana, although most cases were prosecuted as lower-level misdemeanors.
Arizona prosecutors dropped thousands of marijuana possession cases after the measure was approved.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.