520 Cannabis: Legislative Update 

The good, the bad and the deplorable of state legislators on cannabis

Cannabis legislation has received mixed reactions from state lawmakers this year. After the legislature's "crossover week" the last week of February, the dust of the first volley has settled and few bills made it out alive.

In the aftermath, Arizona may be on its way to revolutionizing cannabis research in America, and House Speaker Rusty Bowers played hardball with kids with autism.

Bowers' HCR2045 narrowly passed its floor vote by a four-vote margin. However, the clause to limit THC content in all medical cannabis to 2 percent thankfully failed. The HCR now mostly concerns adding a 5 percent tax to cannabis to study specifically the harmful effects of cannabis.

If the HCR passes the Senate, voters will have the chance to approve it in November. If they do, your cannabis bill will likely increase by 5 percent.

But Bowers' 2 percent limit didn't fail for a lack of trying.

Prior to striking the clause, Bowers attempted to add his 2-percent to HB2049, the bill to add autism spectrum disorder to the state's list of qualifying conditions, according to Mikel Weisser, executive director of Arizona NORML.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Diego Espinoza (D), is a laborious initiative undertaken by Brandy Williams, president of the Arizona chapter of Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism.

MAMMA has won campaigns in seven states to legalize autism as a qualifying condition.

In Arizona, Williams, along with the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association, has petitioned the Arizona Department of Health Services at least four times to approve cannabis treatment for autism. It failed every time before she turned to legislature.

She has introduced the bill three years in a row, now.

If it sounds like a labor of love, it is. Williams' 10-year-old son, Logan, has severe autism, and since beginning cannabis treatment in 2015 has vastly improved her family's quality of life since.

Bowers approached Williams with an offer to add autism as a qualifying condition to his bill, no doubt fearing a lack of support for limiting the concentration of THC in cannabis. She passed.

Later, when Bowers' bill appeared to be in hot water, he approached Williams with a plea to add his 2-percent limit to her autism bill. Again, she passed and the bill has slipped into legislative limbo.

Earlier this week, a bill to mandate access to cannabis grown in the same state for scientists conduct research, HB2784, has passed to the Senate with ease.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Kevin Payne (R), garnered all but three votes through committees and the floor.

It has the added benefit of support from Dr. Sue Sisley, a Scottsdale scientist on the forefront of cannabis research advocacy in America.

Sisley has worked with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies for years, petitioning the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration to open up licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.

Years after the DEA agreed to provide 30 more licenses, still only one licenses exists for research cannabis, held by the University of Mississippi. And, spoiler alert, it's bad.

You're better off taking your chances with schwag from across the border than the ditch weed grown by the University of Mississippi.

Before shipping the cannabis to researchers, which sometimes only happens months after sitting on a shelf, the University of Mississippi grinds up the plant, seeds, stems and all. By the time it gets to a lab, it's indistinguishable from guinea pig food.

Sisley has oft noted the importance of using medical grade cannabis for research, so the results actually resemble what one might see in the real world. Otherwise, what good is the research?

Hence her support for HB2784.

The bill skirts the licenses process all together and mandates the state may not charge researchers operating under grants for growing cannabis for medical purposes.

That would basically make the state a cannabis research mecca for the United States, which sounds like a big win for Arizona.


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