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Arizona failed to legalize marijuana in 2016. But voters just did it in 2020.

Arizona voters approved a marijuana legalization measure.

A grow room at SunMed Growers, the largest medical marijuana grower in Maryland.
Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Arizona has voted to legalize marijuana.

Arizona’s Proposition 207 — which voters approved on Election Day, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press — legalizes marijuana possession and use for adults 21 or older, and allows individuals to grow up to six cannabis plants. It charges the Arizona Department of Health Services with licensing and regulating marijuana businesses, from retailers to growers, and imposes a 16 percent tax on sales. Local governments can ban marijuana businesses within their borders, however. It also lets people with marijuana-related criminal records petition for expungement.

Arizona already allowed marijuana for medical purposes. The new law expands legalization to recreational and other non-medical uses.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But starting with President Barack Obama’s administration, the federal government has generally allowed states to legalize cannabis with minimal federal interference.

Before Election Day, 11 states and Washington, DC, had legalized marijuana, although DC doesn’t allow recreational sales. Change has moved quickly across the US: A decade ago, zero states allowed marijuana for recreational purposes.

A map of marijuana legalization laws in the US.

Supporters of legalization argue that it eliminates the harms of marijuana prohibition: the hundreds of thousands of arrests around the US, the racial disparities behind those arrests, and the billions of dollars that flow from the black market for illicit marijuana to drug cartels that then use the money for violent operations around the world. All of this, legalization advocates say, will outweigh any of the potential downsides — such as increased cannabis use — that might come with legalization.

Opponents, meanwhile, claim that legalization will create a huge marijuana industry that will market the drug irresponsibly. They point to America’s experiences with the alcohol and tobacco industries in particular, which have built their financial empires in large part on the backs of the heaviest consumers of their products. And they argue ending prohibition could result in far more people using pot, potentially leading to unforeseen negative health consequences.

In Arizona, voters have sided with legalization supporters.

For more on the debate over marijuana legalization, read Vox’s explainer.

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