Arizona voters will decide minimum wage, recreational marijuana proposals

by Dinita L. James
Gonzalez Law, LLC

On August 18 and 19, two Maricopa County Superior Court judges cleared the way for two voter initiatives with significant implications for Arizona employers to appear on the November ballot. One would raise the statewide minimum hourly wage to $10 on January 1, 2017, and the other would make recreational marijuana legal for people 21 and older and establish a regulatory system like Colorado’s.

Opponents of both measures challenged the petition procedure through which hundreds of thousands of Arizona citizens had endorsed putting the proposed laws to a vote. The dismissal of both lawsuits on August 19 likely means voters will get their say on whether the two provisions will become law.

The minimum wage initiative, which will be designated Proposition 206, would expand on another voter initiative adopted in 2006, under which Arizona’s minimum wage is now $8.05 per hour, 80 cents more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Proposition 206 would increase the Arizona minimum hourly wage to $10 on January 1, 2017, and would mandate 50 cent increases in each of the next three years, topping out at $12 per hour on January 1, 2020. For 2021 and beyond, Arizona’s minimum wage would be subject to annual adjustment based on the cost of living index, reverting to the process now in place but from a much higher floor.

Arizona employers that take a tip credit would be allowed to pay employees who customarily and regularly receive tips $3 per hour less than the applicable minimum wage, which is no change from current law.

Proposition 206 also would mandate that all Arizona employers provide paid sick leave benefits. Employers with 14 or fewer workers would have to provide 24 hours of paid time off, while employers with 15 or more workers would have to provide 40 hours of paid time off.

The marijuana legalization measure, which has been designated Proposition 205, would permit possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and older as well as authorize small-scale home cultivation. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would get the first permits to sell recreational marijuana, which would clear the way for recreational retail sales to begin very soon if Proposition 205 passes.

Unlike the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act adopted by voters in 2010, Proposition 205 would not provide employment protection for marijuana users. Instead, Proposition 205 contains a provision expressly stating that it “does not require an employer to allow or accommodate the possession or consumption of marijuana or marijuana products in the workplace and does not affect the ability of employers to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the consumption of marijuana and marijuana products by employees.”

Opponents of both propositions have vowed to appeal the dismissal of their legal challenges, but they face huge hurdles to get Arizona appellate courts to even consider their appeals before the November election.

Look for a full report on the two ballot measures in the September issue of Arizona Employment Law Letter.

Dinita L. James, a partner in the Arizona law firm Gonzalez Law, LLC, is the editor of Arizona Employment Law Letter. You can reach her at or 480-565-6400.