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Testing Bill Passes in the 11th Hour

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 Hard-Fought Comprehensive AMMA Reform Package Heading to Governor after Unanimous Vote

BY MIKEL WEISSER

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In what can only be described as a marathon fight down to the final possible hour, Monday night, at ten till midnight, the Arizona Senate gave its final unanimous approval to SB1494, Sen David Gowan’s hard fought for testing bill. The vote came just hours after a unanimous vote of support from the AZ House on the final night of the annual legislative session.

Arizona medical marijuana testing is now just one pen stroke away from being the law.

Nine Stakeholder Meetings After It Was Filed

The process was anything but easy. “I now have far greater respect for the legislative process and the men and women who work at our Capitol,” said Level One Lab owner, George Griffeth, reflecting of the process. “That staff is amazing the way they worked with us through all the twists of the developing this language.” To be sure, SB1494 had the one of the protracted byzantine paths to completion of any piece of legislation on the Capitol this year.

The result of years of earlier efforts, SB1494 endured nine stakeholder meetings after it was filed and nearly double that many revisions. Occasionally the talks stalled. After a quick slam dunk through the Senate, the bill languished in the House Rules committee for seven weeks, an almost impossible hurdle to overcome, before being revived.

Then the final week before the end of session, at least four different amendment packages were still under consideration. On Friday afternoon, the stakeholders again found themselves working long, late hours trying to satisfy not just the legislators, but also industry lobbyists, the labs, law enforcement, DHS, and the patient community, who were more than ready to condemn failure as just more proof of why politicians can’t be trusted.

Entwined

Lobbyists and legislators toiled through the course of the Memorial Day Weekend up to the last possible day to get the bill on the agenda, only to find, the last-minute fine tuning created more problems than it solved. Throughout the morning and well into the afternoon, negotiators haggled. Literally, every other piece of legislation was heard and voted on in the House before 1494 and its ultimate companion bill, Gowan’s rural dispensary bill, SB1286 got their turns on the dais.

By the that time, the proposed amendment packages for each bill had them entwined. SB1286’s original rural dispensaries language was moved into 1494 to allow that bill to fight for other cannabis issues without jeopardizing the rural dispensaries provisions. Rep. Tony Rivero’s long buried HB2149 was revived and its criminal cannabis definition language was put into 1286.

That language did not amend AMMA, only the cannabis criminal statutes in ARS13. That meant legislators would only need a simple majority to pass, unlike bills attempting to amend the Prop105-protected AMMA, which needs a 3/4s vote to pass. Additionally, the less controversial provisions in another MMJ bill, Gowan’s short-lived SB1156 regarding transfer of dispensary licenses was added, even though it would have amended AMMA and needed a 3/4s vote to pass.

Residual Republican Reefer Madness

While SB 1494, once completed, never faced any serious challenges on the floor, Republican legislators in both chambers balked at being responsible for approving the revised cannabis definitions. In the House 1286, garnered 36 votes, enough to pass the cannabis definitions, but not enough for the license transfer language, so those provisions had to be struck from the version that reached the Senate.

In the Senate fate was even harsher. Senator Sylvia Allen, took to the floor during a recess making loud, wildly inaccurate claims to warn her fellow senators of the imminent collapse of the country, if the legislators were caught supporting concentrated medical marijuana products. In response to the dissension, Senate President, Sen Karen Fann, refused to even hear the bill.

Less than twelve hours later, the state Supreme Court would rule in favor of concentrates anyway.

The Facts on SB1494

All in all, the final Factsheet on 1494, contains 47 major provisions and featured 35 last minute amendments. Among the highlights:

  1. Starting November 1, 2020, ALL medical marijuana products sold to AMMA patients must be tested for health and safety. Contamination from mold, mildew, heavy metals, pesticides and residual solvents will all be regulated in keeping with common state MJ testing standards.
  2. A testing program is added to AMMA to license and regulate the independent testing labs who will conduct the quality assurance testing.
  3. Cannabis that can not pass the health and safety standards will not be sold to the public as whole flower. However, remediation options are included and the active ingredients could be isolated and extracted from the cannabis, avoiding the contaminants.
  4. Labs will not only have to register and be regulated by the state, they will also have to meet national and international lab standards to maintain their accreditation.
  5. A dozen member advisory board will be created to help write the provisions that shape the program.
  6. DHS will now be authorized to police the industry and penalize bad actors. Though the language details scads of levels of offense and consequence (warnings, notices, fines and so on), for the first time DHS will now have the ability to revoke the license of insistently bad actors.
  7. For the first time, DHS officials will be able to conduct anonymous health research on patient buying patterns to improve scientific research into cannabis effectiveness.
  8. Perhaps most importantly the bill contains a legislative intent clause, meaning that if Arizona should legalize adult use cannabis, these same medical marijuana health and safety standards will be required in the new adult use program.
  9. AND, thanks to the SB1286 language, 1494 now requires that some future dispensary licenses will be designated to rural areas.
  10. Further, these future dispensary licenses will have to stay in the rural parts of the state, Currently rural licenses can move after 3yrs.

While some might say the process SB1494 was so complex it would’ve made the “I’m Just a Bill” guy toss himself in the nearest paper shredder, the result of all that reconsideration and fine-tuning is an amazingly comprehensive bill to create and regulate cannabis testing. Quite an accomplishment, considering AZ is the last state in the nation to regulate the health and safety of the cannabis products sold to its citizens.

Despite years of effort from lobbyists and activist groups, 1494 marks the first time AMMA has been significantly amended, though earlier in the session, Sen Sonny Borrelli’s SB1024, a revenue reporting bill made it to the governor. Despite the offhand remarks by Sylvia Allen, it appears the Arizona State Legislature has finally accepted that the state’s 197,000 patients are citizens after all.

–Mikel Weisser the editor of the Arizona Cannabis Monthly and state director of Arizona NORML.

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