The Gila County Attorney’s Office has advised all law enforcement agencies in the county to not charge anyone over the age of 21 for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana as of Nov. 16, moving quickly to implement Proposition 207.
“The logic seems to be that charging someone with something that will almost certainly be dismissed is a waste of time and effort,” said Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd.
The Roundup reached out to the Gila County Attorney’s Office for comment but received none by press time.
The ballot measure has two goals with two deadlines.
The first is Nov. 30. By that date, marijuana arrests for possession, cultivation and transportation of 2.5 ounces of marijuana or six plants ends. Under the law, possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana will no longer be considered a felony. But the ordinance prohibits smoking in public places; allows employers to prohibit employees from smoking marijuana and gives landlords and property owners the right to prohibit marijuana use on their properties.
The second deadline has to do with those convicted of marijuana related offenses. The new law provides a legal avenue to expunge the criminal record of those convicted of certain marijuana crimes, such as possession, consumption, cultivation of six or fewer plants and transportation of 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana after July 12, 2021.
Already the Town of Payson has passed an ordinance that reaffirms no smoking in public as well as takes control of where a business may sell marijuana.
“This proposition certainly creates a lot of issues, not only for law enforcement, but for the public as well,” said Ron Tischer, Payson’s police chief.
He cited concerns over health and a rise in crime as examples.
“People see dollar signs with all the extra tax revenue coming in. What they don’t see is the increases in juvenile overdoses in the emergency rooms or the additional burglaries to these marijuana stores or the additional DUIs on the road,” he said.
Arizona is the first state to go directly from felony possession to legalization. Most states have an interim decriminalization stage that treats marijuana possession like a speeding ticket.
This abrupt change creates a challenge for the legal system that some county attorney offices have decided to prepare for immediately instead of add to the burden of expunging thousands of marijuana convictions once it goes into effect.
That’s a lot of cases.
For example, police in Arizona arrested 12,000 people last year for marijuana offenses, according to crime statistics gathered by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Now those people, whose crime falls within the parameters of the law, have an avenue to remove a felony from their record.
In Arizona, those with a felony pay a heavy price even after they complete their jail or prison terms and pay all their fines. Arizona felons may not vote. They often have trouble qualifying for jobs, especially if they need a background check. The system also precludes them from receiving certain loans, such as low-cost federal home loans.
The initiative has limitations on where and when marijuana may be used. Police can write tickets for violations of those limits, such as no smoking marijuana in public, age limits and restrictions on home growing. Tischer said his officers will write a ticket for anyone using marijuana in public spaces in town.
Proposition 207 also outlines the licensing system that determines where marijuana may be sold and by what company.
The law does not allow anyone to operate a car, boat or airplane while under the influence of marijuana.
No one may consume marijuana in a public or open space.
Any cultivation must be in a closed and locked room or greenhouse. The plants must not be easily visible.
Penalties include fines and drug counseling and even misdemeanor criminal charges.
The sales tax collected will go toward education, public safety and helping establish marijuana industries in communities “disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws.”
Proponents say the 16% excise tax on top of the state sales tax could generate $166 million in taxes in the first year.
The existing network of medical marijuana dispensaries will be first in line to sell recreational marijuana as the proposition gave them licensing priority.