November 16, 2021

Bella Dortch

A year after legalization, here’s how marijuana is impacting Arizona

What’s green, edible and used to be illegal? You guessed it, cannabis. Arizona voted “yes” to Proposition 207 in late 2020, legalizing adult recreational use of marijuana in Arizona. Nearly a year after the passage of the proposition, Phoenix residents are reflecting on its impacts.

According to the Arizona Department of Revenue website, Prop 207, also known as the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, passed in November 2020. The proposition allows anyone over the age of 21 to “possess, purchase, transport, or process 1 ounce or less of marijuana or 5 grams or less of marijuana concentrate,” according to the website.

As of July 2021, 18 states had legalized adult recreational cannabis, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures website. Kylee Winner, a student at Arizona State University, is one of the adults this legalization affected. They said they use cannabis in social settings or to reduce anxiety.

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“My friends and I are occasional recreational users,” Winner said. “How people use alcohol recreationally as … de-stressors, [it’s] just kind of the same thing, but in different ways and settings.”

Steven Duncan, a Phoenix resident for 13 years, has used cannabis a few times since legalization. He wrote in a message everybody he knows was in favor of the proposition.

“[I was] 100% in favor,” Duncan wrote. “I see no difference between booze and weed. Better to get the tax dollars and give folks a safe way to purchase.”

Madeline Meier, an associate professor of psychology at ASU, researches the causes, course and consequence of cannabis use. She said acute effects of cannabis consumption vary greatly depending on its preparation.

Meier said the main element of cannabis to focus on is THC, which is the “psychoactive constituent” of cannabis and accounts for the feeling of the “high.” The dose of THC is what seems to matter, she said.

“At high doses, people can become anxious,” Meier said. “At low doses … people feel less anxious.”

While some, like Winner, find solace in the anxiety-reducing effects of cannabis, others, like Meier, are concerned cannabis isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Because it’s not regulated, “you don’t really know what’s in there,” Meier said.

“What you get in the dispensary is not what researchers are talking about when they say there might be medical benefits,” Meier said.

CBD has proved effective for medical treatment of some conditions and doesn’t lead to a high, she said. It’s present in Epidiolex, an FDA-regulated pharmaceutical shown to help with seizures. Meier said cannabis sold in dispensaries might contain CBD, but it also can contain “tons of other chemical constituents” whose effects remain unknown.

When scientists discuss health benefits of cannabis, “they’re talking about pharmaceutical preparations where they can really isolate what chemicals are in there,” Meier said. The average cannabis product at a Phoenix dispensary isn’t FDA approved to treat medical conditions.

For Winner and many other Arizonans, however, the benefits outweigh the perceived risks. Knowing this, Meier said physicians should discuss safe cannabis consumption and habits with patients so they understand some of what’s entering their body.

“That education is really important, but sometimes we don’t even have enough information to educate people, because, again, the policy changes have outpaced what we really know,” Meier said. “Some things, you know, we’re just learning. We’re trying to understand, we’re trying to communicate that to the public.”