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MMJ Breaks Thru!

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5 Cannabis Reform Bills to Heard at Capitol Next Wednesday, Hemp Bill Heading to Governor

 

BY MIKEL WEISSER

After years of being “guaranteed non-starters,” this week the AZ State Legislature announced five MORE medical marijuana bills will be heard in committee next week. The concentrates crisis, patient card costs, rural dispensary struggles, fingerprint cards for dispensary agents, and testing are all up for discussion at the Capitol next Wednesday morning in two separate hearings.

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Senate Considers Card Cost Cuts and …

At the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Sen Kate Brophy-McGee, senators will consider the fate of four bills. Perhaps topping the list of public interest is Sen Sonny Borrelli’s SB 1138, a bill amending the state medical marijuana program to lower card costs to $50 and extend card expirations to two years. Requiring a 3/4s vote to amend the AMMA, this bill was held from an earlier date, but on the continuing success of his hemp program, Borrelli feels strong about presenting this in committee.

A second pressing issue for AZ’s cannabis community is medicinal cannabis product testing. Sen David Gowan’s SB1494, which has been crafted with the help of the cannabis testing community, hopes to establish testing protocols for cannabis products and licensing for cannabis testers, who are currently not protected under the AMMA for possession and transportation of the cannabis they test. This topic was the subject of a hard-fought but ultimately unsuccessful Borrelli effort in 2018 (the ill-fated SB1420).

For patients in rural areas of the state, a second Gowan bill, SB 1286, could start the process of returning dispensaries to some of the rural areas abandoned in the past few years. Initial AMMA regulations only required rural dispensaries to stay put for three years, then they could relocate to patient-rich urban areas. Currently the formula for adding new dispensaries to the state program focuses on urban areas with the highest density of patients. Gowan’s bill would reverse the formula and direct new licenses back to rural areas which have lost dozens of dispensaries since 2016. In addition to benefiting elderly or infirm rural patients who cannot cultivate their own marijuana or manufacture their own marijuana products, rural law enforcement agencies around the state are championing this measure. Whenever a rural area loses its dispensary, the patients regain their grow rights. In some cases, this has fueled the underground market.

Perhaps the strangest MMJ bill up for discussion is Borrelli’s SCR1021. Working against type, this mini-omnibus bill addresses a variety of issues: removing the “disqualifying felony” provisions of the original AMMA, requiring a company’s taxes be paid before they can renew their license, and allowing for on-the-spot inspections of dispensary facilities by DHS staff. Expect some push back on those last two provisions for sure. More importantly, filed as an SCR (Senate Concurrent Resolution) this bill would get referred to the ballot for voters to approve in the 2020 election, where it could possibly confuse voters in an effort to sink any citizen-led legalization initiative. This bill is very unlikely to survive

Concentrates Solution Heard in House

Despite all the action in that Senate hearing room, the majority of AZ MMJ attention will be over in the House Public Safety Committee hearing, chaired by Rep Kevin Payne, where the fate of cannabis concentrates in AZ hang in the balance. Rep Tony Rivero’s HB2149, a cannabis definitions bill, would protect concentrated cannabis products, redefine cannabis as marijuana and remove cannabis from the list of class four felony narcotics. Unlike, all of the Senate bills, which work within the AMMA and will require 3/4s vote to pass, over in the House will only need an up or down vote to reach the governor. Across the state cannabis activist groups (such as Women Grow Phoenix, AZ-NORML and Tucson’s Veterans United for Cannabis) have fired up their social media machines encouraging their followers to call and email their legislators and the committee members ahead of the Wednesday hearing.

In Other News

It’s worth noting that these bills aren’t even the first mmj bills to advance this session. For example, Borrelli’s been batting a thousand this season. Already Borrelli’s SB1003 is heading to the governor’s office and expecting to be signed. That bill accelerates the start date of AZ’s industrial hemp program from August to June 1, in time for farmers to harvest a crop this season. His SB1024, a bill requiring DHS to share financial records with DOR (Department of Revenue) passed out of the Senate this week and will follow his own version of a testing bill SB1137, a bill that establishes a list of chemicals to be prohibited from use in cannabis cultivation, which is already heading to the House.

Also passing the halfway point on the road to becoming a law, Sen Paul Boyer’s SB1222, is heading across the courtyard. Despite having to endure a floor amendment clarifying its language during its final Senate vote, Boyer’s dispensary inspection bill seems in fine shape and likely to pass the House as well.

Both committee hearings begin at 9am. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing will be held in Senate hearing room 1. The House Public Safety Committee hearing is in House hearing room 3.

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