Recreational marijuana sales kick off in Arizona

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Ryan Randazzo

| Arizona Republic

Recreational marijuana sales have started in Arizona, with many of the state’s medical-marijuana dispensaries getting the OK on Friday to open sales to anyone 21 or older.

A Harvest Health and Recreation dispensary in Scottsdale got approval at about noon. The staff quickly broke out signs showing where recreational customers would check in, separating them from medical customers.

Public sales of marijuana, vape pens and edible products such as gummies and candies follow the passage of Proposition 207 in November, making it legal for adults to possess marijuana.

It is the fastest that any of the 15 states with recreational marijuana has gone from voter approval to actual sales.

The ballot measure also allows Arizona’s 120 or so existing medical dispensaries to apply to the Department of Health Services to sell recreational marijuana to adults.

Soon after Harvest workers at the Scottsdale location got the official approval for recreational sales from the Arizona Department of Health Services, the state department released a list of dozens of dispensary operators that also were approved for recreational sales.

Medical-marijuana dispensaries that got approved to sell recreational marijuana on Friday include 13 of the 15 Harvest shops in the state, all eight Curaleaf shops, The Mint locations in Guadalupe and Mesa, three Territory Dispensary locations, and dozens of others in places across the state, including in Tucson, Yuma, Flagstaff, Cottonwood and Sedona.

At about 12:15 p.m., a Scottsdale man named Chuck walked into the Harvest dispensary near the Scottsdale Airport and asked if recreational sales were yet allowed. An excited staff told him they were, and after showing his identification and checking in, he perused the shop without a line.

He chose a vape pen with “Tropic Thunder” and “Skunk #1” marijuana strain cartridges, and a pre-rolled “Peanut Butter Breath” joint. After taxes, he paid $121.

“I was just driving by and asking if they were open yet,” he said, not realizing he was among the first people in the state to make a legal, recreational purchase.

Shop workers cheered as his transaction rang through.

An hour later, once word got out, there was a line of about 30 people outside the shop.

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Recreational marijuana sales begin in Arizona

Customers discuss what it means to be able to buy marijuana at Harvest dispensary in Scottsdale on the first day of recreational marijuana sales in Arizona.

David Wallace, Arizona Republic

Meanwhile, dispensaries across the state continued to check their application status with the Health Department and turn their shops over for recreational sales. Many expect long lines over the coming days.

Sara Schuck, 29, of Scottsdale, waited in line at Harvest on Friday afternoon, and said it was exciting to be able to buy marijuana legally.

“We all grew up being told it was a bad thing, and it’s not such a bad thing, so now we all get to experience that,” she said. “It’s a plant at the end of the day, and it’s got a lot of medicinal properties and a lot of good positive things it can do for everyone, and I think it’s a good thing the world is accepting that.”

She said she wasn’t surprised by the line, which by 3:30 p.m. wrapped halfway around the former bank building.

“More people partake in cannabis use than you actually think,” she said.

HOW TO GET IT: Where can I buy recreational marijuana in Arizona?

Mario Bautista, 42, of Mesa, was one of those who waited in line on Friday afternoon to make a legal purchase.

“It feels good,” he said after buying some edibles. “Like I’m not sneaking around and depending on anyone else.”

He previously lived in California and had purchased legally in that state.

“I’m glad we caught up finally,” he said.

Dispensaries paid $25K to add recreational marijuana

Harvest executives filed their application to open for recreational sales in the state early Tuesday morning, the first day medical dispensaries could file such applications, CEO Steve White said.

It cost dispensaries $25,000 to apply to move into recreational sales.

So long as the short applications were complete and the dispensary was in good standing with the state, meaning no outstanding violations of medical-marijuana rules, the applications were expected to receive approval.

White donned a custom yellow suit jacket matching the color of Harvest logos, and held a printed copy of the dispensary’s recreational permit from the state.

“This cost $3 million and six years to get, and I don’t know how many hundreds of hours of work,” he said of the historic moment.

When Harvest got the OK from the state, the dispensary quickly rang through a purchase for White so it could be the first shop in the state to record a transaction under the new law.

The receipt showed $143 worth of various products, including “Grape Dream,” “Purple Portal,” “Amnesia Lemon” and “Princess Haze” strains. White said the company was planning to donate the purchase to someone deserving.

Arizona Department of Health Services spokesman Steve Elliott said Friday that the department had approved 86 applications.

Arizona marijuana sales grew 27% in 2020

Some dispensaries in the state are still waiting to file their applications because they are not yet prepared to offer recreational sales, which are expected to bring substantially more traffic to their stores.

But more savvy operators pounced on the chance to be among the first to tap into the recreational market.

Arizona dispensaries sold about 106 tons of marijuana and marijuana products such as edibles last year while only being allowed to sell to people with a medical-marijuana card. That figure has grown steadily since those sales began in 2012.

The 2020 sales were about a 27% increase over the 83 tons of marijuana and marijuana products sold in 2019.

Arizona has more than 295,000 residents with cards that allow them to purchase medical marijuana. Those patients still can purchase from facilities that offer recreational sales, and they can purchase more than the general public. The possession limit for recreational marijuana is 1 ounce while medical patients can purchase as much as 2.5 ounces every two weeks.

Medical patients also can purchase edible products with higher potency than the 10 milligrams of THC allowed per serving for recreational gummies and other foods. And they avoid a 16% excise tax that is placed on recreational sales.

More job opportunities anticipated

The expanding market should benefit the more than 9,000 people working in Arizona dispensaries.

Employees at dispensaries, called dispensary agents, are registered with the state, and must apply for a new “facility agent” card from the state to work in a shop that sells recreational marijuana.

Tuesday was also the first day employees could apply for their new cards to work in recreational facilities. Employees can work at a recreational facility so long as they have applied for the facility agent card, even if the Health Department hasn’t approved or rejected them yet.

White said Harvest asked hundreds of employees to come in to work 90 minutes early Tuesday to help them file those applications.

More job opportunities at dispensaries are expected because of Proposition 207, not just because of increased demand, but because more dispensaries are on their way.

In addition to seven in the state that are licensed but not yet operating, Proposition 207 also allows for new dispensaries in rural counties with fewer than two operating today, and another 26 shops that will be allowed under a “social equity” program aimed at helping people who have been harmed by historical marijuana prohibitions.

Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at ryan.randazzo@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.

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