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AZ Legislative Updates by AZ-NORML

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AZ’s 2020 cannabis legislative season got off to a comparatively subdued start after 2019’s “Bill-la-palooza” that saw a record 31 marijuana-related pieces of legislation. During week one, ten cannabis bills were filed, along with three criminal justice reform bills that would affect cannabis law in AZ if passed. Several other bills are known to be in the works, however, and the legislators will have till the end of the month to get things filed.

The session is scheduled to run 100 days, though rarely hits that mark. Last year, due to budget negotiations, it ran over 140 days and didn’t wrap up until nearly June. With primaries in early August this year, don’t expect that to happen. Typically, the AZ legislature will file over 1200 bills and actually address only a couple hundred. Few MJ-related bills have ever received committee hearings, and even fewer make it to the opposite chamber.

In 2019, after years of trying, AZ-NORML and the AZ cannabis industry led by the Arizona Dispensary
association (ADA)
 succeeded in shaping several pieces of positive cannabis legislation including SB1494, a bill by Sen David Gowan (R-LD14), an omnibus bill that included a much-needed state cannabis testing requirement and two-year medical cards, halving the annual price. By and large, Democrats were brought on board in hopes the new laws would give some relief from the years of the relentless GOP attacks AZ MMJ. Meanwhile, most GOP legislators saw the testing provisions as a way to rein in what they consider a lawless industry.

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This round, AZ’s 2020 cannabis-related legislative prospects are dominated by the shadow of the #SmartandSafeArizona legalization campaign. The fourth legalization effort in four election cycles and the first major attempt since the heartbreak loss in 2016, #SmartandSafeArizona has the best chance and widest support of any AZ initiative to date. Written by ACLU lawyers working with AZ’s MMJ industry and consumer advocates (including AZ-NORML), the initiative has proven a juggernaut in the signature-gathering phase, collecting more than 150,000 signatures of the 237,000 needed in just its first three months. The turn-in deadline is in late June.

With the formerly dependably red state rapidly turning purple and pro-cannabis, the election year mood at the Capitol tends toward ambitious minority Democrats trying to file “position statement legislation” for their upcoming campaign PR, since few of their bill will pass. Meanwhile, most the rank and file Republicans are trying to avoid controversy and keep to the party’s prohibitionist playbook.

Speaker of the House, Rusty Bowers (R-LD15), a Mormon conservative ideologue, has even refused to consider his own party’s cannabis bills, saying he won’t “sit down with dopers.” And, aside from Sens Gowan and Borrelli’s 2019 “handcuff the industry” bills, President of the Senate, Karen Fann (R-LD1), rejected all cannabis legislation and publicly considers MMJ “just an excuse for drug-seekers to get a new high.”

Meanwhile, a liberal faction of Democrats who opposed the business structure of #SmartandSafeArizona, have tried to formulate their own legalization approach, though few, beyond the legislators themselves and their staff, have sincere hopes of even seeing committee assignments from the notoriously tight-fisted Speaker Bowers, who bottle-necked scores of bills from both parties during the 2019 session by delaying committee assignments and floor action. Notice ZERO House bills below have committee assignments.  

Much pre-session gossip speculated that the upstart group, the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, would try to launch a Republican-driven legislative legalization referendum to circumvent the #SmartandSafeArizona initiative; but with reefer-mad GOP leadership like Fann and Bowers, their efforts have gained little visible traction.

2020 FILED CANNABIS RELATED LEGISLATION (as of 1/17/20)

SENATE

SB1010-Sponsor: Sen Borrelli (R-LD05) Assigned Health and Human Services Committee: Bill to allow DHS to do surprise inspections. Longtime pro-hemp, anti-MJ legislator, Borrelli, led the hemp movement in AZ and passed two bills last year on cannabis issues. This is a retread of one of his rejects. The industry will want to kill this. AZ-NORML Position: NO, neutral at best. Likelihood of Passage: <50 %

SB1015-Sponsor: Sen Borrelli (R-LD05) Assigned Health and Human Services Committee: Bill to adopt a federal banned pesticide list as AZ’s standard. The industry supports some bans, opposes a broad list. It could be negotiated. AZ-NORML Position: YES. Likelihood of Passage:  <60 %

SB1016-Sponsor: Sen Borrelli (R-LD05) Assigned Finance Committee: Bill to shift MMJ from being treated as a medicine to merely a commodity to increase tax rate by 5.6% Not only would this devalue the medicinal reputation of cannabis, the irony of a Republican legislator proposing new taxes in anti-tax AZ, the SAME WEEK the governor announced “no new taxes,” has not been lost on the crowd at the Capitol. Already facing stiff industry opposition. AZ-NORML Position: NO, hard NO, that is. Likelihood of Passage: <25 %

SB1017-Sponsor: Sen Borrelli (R-LD05) Assigned Finance Committee: Bill to extend the reporting requirements for dispensary sales date to AZ DOR. This bill works in tandem with a bill Borrelli passed in 2019. Industry opposes AZ-NORML Position: YES, or neutral. Likelihood of Passage: >50 %

SB1063-Sponsor: Sen Quezada (D-LD29) Assigned Commerce Committee: Bill to regulate advertising for vape products. The language uses the word “all” and specifically includes “non-nicotine products,” so by extension does include MMJ vape products. AZ-NORML Position: NO, neutral at best. We don’t want to promote marketing to kids but oppose lumping MMJ products in with nicotine. Likelihood of Passage:  <50%

SB1095-Sponsor: Sen Pace (R-LD25) Assigned Health and Human Services Committee: Bill to simplify the illicit drug statutes. Like elsewhere, AZ’s criminal code on illicit drugs runs pages and pages with a list of chemical variations of cannabimimetics, designer drugs, and meth, among others. Pace’s proposal jettisons most of the list for general descriptions and appears to define cannabis as marijuana. So far the legislative council has yet to issue a factsheet on the bill’s actual intent.  AZ-NORML Position: Neutral until further review. Likelihood of Passage: >40%

HOUSE

HB2049-Sponsor: Rep Espinosa (D-LD19) Not Assigned: Bill to add autism and opioid use disorder as qualifying conditions for an MMJ certification.Coincidentally this bill is the flagship issue of AZ-NORML’s 2020 legislative agenda, though the sponsor had not worked with NORML in the drafting and is the third legislator to carry the bill in the past three yrs. AZ-NORML is working with Brandy Williams, science advisor for the national organization MAMMA (Mothers Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism), to bring attention to the 800 pages of peer-reviewed research she’s amassed in her work. THX
Williams and MAMMA, 17 states have added autism as a qualifying condition. Last year Williams helped six states add autism to their qualifying conditions lists, but thus far can’t get approval in her own state to qualify her 10-year son for his autism, though he currently qualifies for seizures. AZ-NORML Position: YES. Likelihood of Passage: <25%

HB2178-Sponsor: Rep Blanc (D-LD26) Not Assigned: Bill to create an “automatic expungement” provision for Arizonans with cannabis convictions sponsored by one of #SmartandSafeArizona’s Democratic opponents, Tempe’s most vocal liberal legislator, Isela Blanc. Great idea on paper, but as the crafters of the #SmartandSafeArizona initiative discovered when writing their own expungement section, AZ’s criminal statutes and decentralized record-keeping make it almost impossible to “automatically expunge” cannabis records. The bill further has no funding mechanism to pay for the millions of dollars it would require to implement. An unfunded democratic bill sponsored by an outspoken firebrand reformer, liberalizing criminal justice and forgiving cannabis users? It’s everything GOP legislators loathe.  AZ-NORML Position: Neutral at best due to flaws in the design. Likelihood of Passage:  <0%

HB2359-Sponsor: Rep Toma (R-LD22) Not Assigned: Bill to prevent applicants from being denied licenses for having previous drug charges including cannabis. Toma had been part of a criminal justice reform task force in 2019. This is a new variation on a great idea that is sadly going to be a hard sell to GOP leaders even though Toma is a well-respected Republican himself. AZ-NORML Position: YES Likelihood of Passage: <50%

HB2533-Sponsor: Rep Shah (D-LD24) Not Assigned: Talk about baby steps, this bill reduces the punishment for cannabis possession in one of the smallest possible ways. Simple cannabis possession from a puff of smoke up to 2lbs is STILL a class 6 felony, but now a judge MAY fine you an additional $750, instead SHALL fine you. THX. Co-sponsored by popular GOP criminal justice reformer, Walter Blackman (R-LD6), this should have a “better-than-Democrats” chance of advancing if Bowers starts assigning criminal justice type bills. Currently unlikely.  AZ-NORML Position: YES, I mean why not? Likelihood of Passage: <40%

HB2638-Sponsor: Rep Blackman (R-LD6) Not Assigned: Bill to create an official policy for “deflection programs,” police protocols that allow officers to not arrest folks for various minor offenses (including incidental marijuana possession—cannabis that turns up while a suspect is being searched for a different offense). AZ-NORML executive director, Mikel Weisser, and legal counsel, Tom Dean, participated in Blackman’s criminal justice subcommittee that shaped the crafting of this bill. AND, Blackman had success in 2019 with criminal justice reform bills. AZ-NORML Position: YES, duh. Likelihood of Passage: 50%

HB2657-Sponsor: Rep Friese (D-LD09) Not Assigned AZ-NORML: Bill to tax and regulate cannabis, aka a T&R bill. Like Blanc’s HB2178, this bill was written as a backlash to #SmartandSafeArizona’s proposed business structure. Dr. Friese has worked on cannabis legislation for years with both the industry and activists, but this bill shows no progress in his understanding of the plant or the needs of its consumers. It’s like a legalization scheme written by and for folks who hate weed and disrespect those who consume it.

Near comic in its milquetoast wrong-headedness, Friese’s bill would tax and regulate cannabis but not actually legalize it. Not only would homegrown still be verboten, possession of cannabis outside your home, outside its original sealed store packaging, would be a class two misdemeanor and possession of any amount over 28.00 grams is STILL a class six felony. Not only that but, in what can only be read as a big FU to the existing industry, Friese proposes to move regulation of the adult-use cannabis market over to the liquor control board while the MMJ program would still be regulated by DHS. As a result, liquor stores would be allowed to sell adult-use cannabis while MMJ stores would not. Though it’s clear Friese intended to write something to appease the most rabid prohibitionists, in particular, he appears to have concocted the worst of all possible legalization proposals. Position: NO, so many bad ideas it’s surprisingly only 25 pages. With “allies” like this, it is no wonder the citizens of Arizona have turned to #SmartandSafeArizona’s initiative. Likelihood of Passage: 0%

IN THE WORKS

Dedicated MJ-reformer, Rep Pam Powers-Hannley (D-LD09), has been working with AZ-NORML for legislation on three topics: a response to AZ’s digital card fiasco (requiring DHS include an actual plastic card for patients as part of their certification); a defelonization bill for up to 4oz (AZ’s cannabis reforming legislators have symbolically filed at least one defelonization bill each year since 2014); and a bill to allow physician’s assistants (PAs) to recommend patient certifications.

Also in the discussion, Rep Blanc is rumored to be working on a T&R (tax and regulate legalization) bill and the AZ3C cannot be ruled out. Lastly, the AZ cannabis industry and community are still waiting to see the implementation of last year’s testing bill slated to take effect on November 1. Concerns from patients, the industry, DHS, and even members of the testing committee itself who just completed creating the new regulations, have many insiders speculating some legislative fixes may be on the way.

-Mikel Weisser is the executive director of the Arizona chapter of NORML and rural field director for the #SmartandSafeArizona campaign and a contributing writer for the azcannabisnews.com

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