BY MIKEL WEISSER
In front of an audience packed with medical marijuana patients, HB2149, the cannabis definitions bill designed to solve the concentrates crisis has sailed through committee with a strong 5-2 vote. The bill sponsored by LD21’s Rep. Tony Rivero (R), clarifies that “cannabis concentrates” are simply products extracted from marijuana, not an entirely separate deadly narcotic, as it was mistakenly classified back in 1981.
Rivero engineered the bill to address the concentrates issue in those 1981 criminal drug statutes without having to amend the AMMA, AZ’s voter protected medical marijuana program. Changes to voter approved ballot measures require 3/4s approval from both houses of the legislature, but changes to the state criminal drug statutes only need an up-or-down vote.
The House Public Safety Committee, chaired by Rivero’s seatmate, Rep Kevin Payne, abandoned traditional party lines that have plagued cannabis reform efforts in the past. On the NO side, former law enforcement officers, LD 20 Rep Anthony Kern and LD23’s John Kavanagh stuck with the previously unwavering GOP position of NO to anything cannabis-related. On the YES side, Democrats Rich Andrade (LD29), Jennifer Longdon (LD24) and Daniel Hernandez (LD2) were joined by both Chairman Payne and LD1’s Rep Noel Campbell, approving the amendment to the state criminal drug statutes. Campbell’s yes vote was particularly surprising. The Prescott area legislator is a former DEA pilot and takes a hard line on cannabis laws. He even passed on voting at first to consider his decision before weighing in. Citing fears that patients might be unwittingly being trapped by a willful misinterpretation of the law, Campbell acknowledged he still has questions, but wanted the bill to move forward for further discussion.
On a morning where 5 mmj bills were being heard in committees around the Capitol, the House Public Safety morning session ran well into the afternoon. Still patients, parents, lobbyists and activists crowded the room. HB2149 was the last of sixteen bills heard in committee. By that time speakers were strictly limited to two-minute speeches. AZ-NORML, Women Grow, the PHX Cannabis Coalition and MITA-AZ were all on-hand, having organized letter and phone call campaigns in support of the legislation. The group, Veterans United for Cannabis, brought letters from veterans in Tucson but did not get to speak. AZ-NORML provided copies of studies from the National Institute of Health on the efficacy of concentrated cannabis products and addressed the dozens of patients who have been charged with class four narcotics felonies that had no idea the laws had been changed by last summer’s Jones Ruling.
Noted cannabis scientist, Dr Hope Jones, who helped write last year’s SB1420 testing bill, clarified that concentrated cannabis is still cannabis; and a mother of a 15-year-old pediatric epilepsy patient spoke about the importance concentrates, noting her daughter has been a patient since the girl was 8 and cannabis tinctures have been the only thing to provide relief. The room burst out in cheers when the final vote was tallied. It was the fourth cannabis bill of five that morning to advance out of committee.
Next step onto a floor vote in the House then hopefully across to the Senate. Keep watching for updates.