After more than one year of tinkering, the “Arizona Medical Marijuana Reform Act” has passed the State Senate.
Sponsored by Senator Sonny Borrelli, this controversial measure aims to be the first successful legislative reform of the state’s wildly popular medical marijuana program. The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, initially implemented in 2010, serves more than 150,000 card holders making it the 3rd largest in the nation.
A decisive 78 out of the state’s 90 legislators co-sponsored SB1420. The bill passed by a vote of 27-3.
The legislation's principal provision establishes health and safety standards for medicinal cannabis products. It also calls for stricter testing requirements and affects the licensing of the lab facilities doing the testing. The bill also set standards for package labeling and child-proofing.
The bill also establishes cannabis as an agricultural commodity in Arizona, putting cultivation and processing oversight on the state’s Department of Agriculture.
When the program was created in 2011, cannabis testing was left out of the licensing structure. At that time testing technology was still in its infancy.
Today, 27 of the 29 states with medical marijuana industries require product testing. Health problems in Northern California and Oregon have been traced to untested contaminated cannabis products.
Who Was Involved In Developing SB1420?
Having worked with Senator Borrelli on last year’s hemp legislation, AZ-NORML took a lead role in shepherding SB1420 into existence.
“This testing bill had been a goal of mine since I first started advocating for cannabis in 2012,” says AZ-NORML director, Mikel Weisser.
The crafting of the bill was coordinated with a coalition of industry leaders, including C4 Testing Labs Science Officer, Dr. Hope Jones; Uncle Herb Dispensary owner, Andrew Provencio; and Arizona Marijuana Industry Trade Association founder (MITA), Demitri Downing; activists like Jack Wilborn of LEAP (Law Enforcement Action Partnership); Errl Cup founder, and Jim Morrison. Staff from the Dept. of Ag and Senate legislative counsel also cooperated on the effort.
AZ-NORML and MITA lobbyist, Tory Roberg, conducted six months’ worth of bimonthly stakeholder meetings, honing the dozens of suggestions and expert opinions down to a handful of urgent reforms.
Opposition to the bill
The bill was heard in committee late January. It began receiving national attention when conservatives, led by Arizona’s top anti-cannabis voice, Yavapai County prosecutor, Sheila Polk, baulked at a provision to lower card costs. The disagreement nearly derailed the bill while it was still in committee.
In response to the defection by members of his party, Borrelli pulled the card cost provision in an attempt to keep the legislation alive. Many in the industry claimed the maneuver took away the most crucial section of the bill and showed potential bad faith.
High powered lobbyists were brought in by various interests to argue both for and against the bill when it was finally debated on the Senate floor. No one was predicting which way the vote would go.
“It’s widely known that the GOP caucus has consistently attacked the program,” Weisser explained. “Pulling the card cost provision is seen as a sign the conservatives want to hijack the bill to turn it into an attack on the industry. The Democratic caucus has long been the protectors of the state medical program. They’re ready to gut the whole thing at a moment’s notice. I expect fireworks when it gets to the House.”
Additional Arizona Cannabis-Related Legislation
AZ-NORML is also advocating for further legislation. Other potential reform initiatives include HB2014, a bill which seeks to take away felony penalties for marijuana offenders; HB2630, which protects concentrates in the state medical program and removes “Cannabis” (defined as marijuana concentrates) as a separate drug from “Marijuana” in the Illicit Drug Schedule; HB2508, which adds “Opioid Dependency” as a qualifying condition, and HB2587/SB1472, twin bills aiming to add Autism Spectrum Disorder as a qualifying condition.
AZ-NORML is calling on all concerned citizens to join them for their annual lobby day Monday, February 26th. Citizens can speak directly with their legislators about their opinions on cannabis in general and on pending legislation.
For further information about AZ-NORML lobby day or current pending cannabis legislation, people are urged to contact Mikel Weisser, the State Director of Arizona NORML at 928-234-5633, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More details can be found at www.normlinarizona.org.