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Testy Talks Stall in Squabble-fest!

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BY ACM STAFF

The stakeholder meeting for Sen David Gowan’s SB1494, a “clean” testing bill went sideways late Monday afternoon and degenerated into what at times felt like a squabble-fest. Amid a room chalked full of lobbyists, DHS reps, testing company operators, industry insiders and even industry outsiders like AZ-NORML and Errl Cup founders, Jim Morrison and Jay Nehri, tensions hit a high point as newly installed ADA lobbyist, Pele Fischer pushed the senator to add her organization’s new late-arriving amendments to Gowan’s already heavily amended testing bill, a mere two days after it cleared the Senate with flying colors.

Designed to avoid the pitfalls that have bedeviled five other testing bills in the past two years, Gowan’s bill had been crafted by his own former chief of staff, Brett Mechum with the help of the state testing industry and multiple stakeholder meetings. Though the ADA called for time to suggest language immediately after the bill passed out of committee on February 20th, Fischer only presented the language to Gowan after the Senate floor vote, March 7th, a full 15 days later with no clear explanation of the extended delay. An old hand at maneuvering legislation through the Capitol, Gowan sought to protect his bill from any extra complications, like House amendments added late in the process that would require the bill return to the Senate for a second vote on the amendments.

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“Any amendment at this stage is a problem,” Gowan warned. “I have been at this 20 yrs. Once people start adding amendments late in the game, folks get spooked. They start voting no just because they don’t understand what’s going on. I am not here to let my bills die.”  Ever the diplomat, Gowan instead opened by offering the ADA a “vehicle bill” to carry their amendments in a separate piece of legislation to protect SB1494’s momentum.

A vehicle bill, aka a “striker” or “strike everything” bill takes a separate piece of legislation that is still viable, strikes all its language and replaces it with an entirely revised piece of legislation to handle the proposed amendments. The resulting “trailer bill” follows the original bill through the legislative process, making corrections too complicated to be addressed so late in the legislative process.

However, Fischer, along with ADA head Steve White, continued to hammer Gowan and Mechum, dangling ADA support for the entire effort as dependent on getting their primary concerns added in SB2494. “It’s going to take all of us working together to get the support we need to pass this thing,” Fischer emphasized repeatedly. It didn’t take long for tempers and tones to rise. At point, tiring of Fischer repeated implied threats, Mechum told the room, “You told me if you didn’t get your amendments in this bill, you’d kill it. Is that your meaning now?”

Sharp readers will remember that in 2018 Sen Sonny Borrellli’s testing bill, SB1420 met similar roadblocks and its momentum stalled. In the end the bill failed to reach the 3/4s threshold necessary to amend a Prop105 protected citizens’ initiative.

Gowan, dismayed at the lack of unity on the bill, eventually left the room to Mechum to manage. Facing the seriousness of the moment, Fischer detailed her list of critical amendments necessary for ADA support. First, Fischer is calling for a return to the bill’s original summer of 2021 proposed start date. DHS representatives suggested the committee selection and rulemaking process could take as much as sixteen months.

Next the ADA objected to the public posting of cannabis test results, a highly contentious issue that led to extended heated debate. Eventually it was pointed out that products that fail would not be available to the public and would not need to have their test results posted.

A DHS official on hand also wanted coverage for creating testing parameters on acceptable levels of contamination. “The Doctor for the State of Arizona does not want to tell the public that ingesting any amount of mold is safe for them.” Working to allay DHS concerns about language that protected the agency from stating acceptable levels of contamination, the ADA asked for regulatory guidelines to be built into the legislation.

Possibly the biggest sticking point for Fischer and the ADA appears to be their push to get Gowan to incorporate cannabis definitions language into his testing bill. In the wake of the Jones Decision four different bills this session have attempted to protect concentrates by redefining cannabis as marijuana and concentrates as approved under the AMMA. First filed, Rep Tony Rivero’s HB2149 seemed to have the momentum and strategy to solve the crisis. Though it also passed out of committee the same day as SB1494, HB2149 has languished in the House Rules Committee since then, along with dozens of other laws, while committee chair, Rep Anthony Kern, mulls over its details. Fearing the bill will die before clearing the Rules Committee, Fischer pushed Gowan to add concentrates protections to his apparently successful bill.

At that point, John Mendibles, a popular conservative speaker for the American Legion who supports medical marijuana, spoke up and explained that, working with AZ-NORML and HB2149 lobbyist Gibson McKay, their group had come up with language Kern approved of and the bill should start moving again this week. With no final agreements set in stone, the group adjourned after about 90 minutes to await Gowan’s answer to the ADA proposals.

This week should tell the tale. Currently not assigned to committee, SB1494 is expected to be sent to the friendlies at Rep Kevin Payne’s Public Safety Committee, the folks who passed Rivero’s HB2149 5-2. Payne’s co-chair in Public Safety, Rules Committee chair Kern is expected to move the logjammed HB2149 forward and any remaining ADA concerns are supposed to be handled through strikers and trailer bills. If all that happens before the week is out, 2019’s best hope for testing might still have a fighting chance.

Either way, keep watching, Arizona Cannabis Monthly will be there.

–ACM staff

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