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Arizona lawmakers seek greater control over marijuana and ballot initiatives

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It seems too much pot is giving Republican state lawmakers an identity crisis as they keep trying to pass greater regulation on the Arizona marijuana industry.

Southern Arizona Rep. Vince Leach introduced a bill that would restrict dispensaries in rural areas from relocating to the cities. His concern is once Arizona's isolated towns are void of dispensaries, people would be free to grow marijuana plants in their yards at will—an unregulated nightmare.

To the ire of many marijuana patients, Arizona medical marijuana law dictates that unless you live farther than 25 miles from a dispensary, you're prohibited from growing your own marijuana plants.

The most recent Arizona Department of Health Services report shows 1,391 marijuana patients with the ability to cultivate, 1.42 percent of all Arizona marijuana patients. Of the state's 853 caregivers, 52.87 percent are allowed to cultivate.

In the state's sparsest counties, in terms of both demand and supply, seven dispensaries serve 4,210 patients. That's about 4.3 percent of the state's medical marijuana population. If those seven dispensaries were to move to the cities, the medical marijuana program would potentially see a threefold increase in the number of patients with the permission to grow marijuana.

It seems that lawmakers are eager to keep hold on that aspect of the industry as the bill, HB2029 passed the Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee with a 5-4 vote on Jan. 23.

As if that weren't enough, lawmakers also seek to limit our ability to pass future marijuana laws ourselves by placing greater restrictions on requirements for citizens to bring a proposition to the ballot.

Another of Leach's bills, HB2404, would restrict signature collectors from being paid on a per-signature basis, a long-standing practice for ballot initiatives to reach the requisite number of signatures. Last year, initiatives needed more than 150,000 valid signatures.

HB2255 from Rep. Bob Thorpe, (R-Flagstaff), would make it illegal for ballot measures to accept donations from out-of-state donors. This would have a massive effect on ballot measures like Prop 205, which relied heavily on funding from out of state to bankroll its nearly $6.6 million budget against the "No on Prop 205" campaign's $6.35 million budget.

The bill was heard on Feb. 9 in the House Government Committee, after the Weekly's deadline.

Legislators point to the more successful Prop 206 as reasoning for their support for the bills, but both of these bills would severely limit future marijuana propositions, not to mention limit voter control over introducing laws.

Backers of the bills say the purpose is to help protect and educate voters from passing bills they believe may have unintended consequences. The argument is reminiscent of the lawsuit against Prop 205, which claimed that the law wasn't adequately explained to voters so they wouldn't know what they were passing.

In order for a voter-passed law to be changed in the future, it must pass a three-fourths vote in both chambers. That's a difficult stunt to pull off for lawmakers, especially in a state legislature as divided as Arizona.

Once again it seems politicians' drive for control is at odds with the rights granted to voters in our state Constitution.

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