Back From the Dead: A few good cannabis bills passed into law this month

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State lawmakers have finally wrapped the 171-day legislative session—one of the longest in history—and at first blush, the news wasn't all bad for legalized cannabis.

A few of the bills actually do some good.

It looked like several weed-related bills had died after Gov. Ducey vetoed nearly two dozen bills to strongarm state lawmakers into cutting income taxes for his rich pals, but some legislation came back from the dead and made a second trip to the governor's desk.

The biggest winner for Big Weed was Ducey's signature on HB 2298, which will devote $25 million to marijuana research over the course of five years. The bill allocates $5 million annually for clinical research on the efficacy of cannabis to treat pain and a myriad of other ailments.

Dr. Sue Sisley of the Scottsdale Research Institute said the bill's passage could make Arizona a top-tier center for cannabis research.

"HB 2298 makes Arizona the first in the nation to require medical cannabis funds be allocated only for FDA-controlled trials, objectively studying cannabis as a potential medicine for treating pain, autism, PTSD and other intractable illnesses," she told Tucson Weedly. "There are other states [that] give medical marijuana money to research but none who have actually required FDA randomized controlled trials: Arizona will be the first state to require this kind of rigorous research, which is the only research that will really move the needle and help change public policy."

Sisley added that results of this research would have "high credibility with the medical community and public health departments" to sway lawmakers' opinions.

"Arizona could help generate a renaissance of cannabis research that could help answer some of the most crucial clinical questions patients have about how cannabis works and doesn't work," she said. "HB2298 will catapult Arizona to the forefront of some of the most important cannabis clinical trials in the world."

Research will focus on epilepsy, autism, PTSD and pain but other areas of research are open as well.

"This is huge for the state of Arizona," Arizona NORML Director Mike Robinette said. "This is a clean bill not vitiated by Speaker Bowers' desire to prove that everyone who ever was consumed marijuana has gone crazy and is axing people and bludgeoning them to death on the highways."

On the other side of the coin though, is the passage of SB 1847, formerly SB 1408, Bowers' pet bill that will devote $250,000 of the MMJ fund to finding a link between cannabis use and various horrible outcomes, including but not limited to psychoses, violence and mental illnesses.

Bowers has devoted other efforts to restrict the devil's lettuce, including this year's attempt to place a THC cap of 2% on legal cannabis products. In 2020, he pushed a book titled, "Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence," written by former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson and completely discredited by the scientific (read: sane) community. (Berenson was seen last weekend at CPAC Texas, where he won cheers with a rant against the COVID-19 vaccine.)

Bowers said that cannabis use leads to "violent violence: Not just somebody punching you in the face, but very horrendous insanity violence." Bowers did concede there were "limited" benefits to medical marijuana, but threw shade on the idea that there was much data to support the idea.

The scientific community disagrees with the foundational tenets of the book Bowers has been pushing like a heroin dealer on a playground. In February 2019, a group of 100 scientists and clinicians published an open letter condemning the book for erroneous conclusions, cherry picking data and "selection bias."

They also criticized Berenson's suggestion that marijuana made Black people crazy. "In one of his book's most disturbing passages, Berenson suggests that one of the reasons that police so disproportionately arrest black people ... for marijuana use is that marijuana makes young black people mentally ill and violent. Conveniently, Berenson ignores the fact that Black and white people use marijuana at the same rates and that the reason for the higher rate of arrests is over-policing of communities of color, based on prohibition. Berenson's irresponsible and inaccurate statement reeks of the crack baby and super-predator myths of the '90s. And though the scientific evidence clearly refutes both theories, we are still working to roll back draconian policies based on those myths today. Tell Your Children race-baits with its pictures of Black marijuana-fueled aggressors, while simultaneously perpetuating uninformed stigma about schizophrenia."

Robinette said money from the medical marijuana fund shouldn't be wasted on such silliness.

"We opposed that on the principle that we do not want to set a precedent of raiding that fund to fund things unrelated to marijuana," Robinette said.

Rep. Randall Friese, a Tucson Democrat who recently announced he was running for Congress next year, sponsored a number of bills, the worst of which died. One of Friese's good bills, SB 1833, passed after the legislation was taken up by Republican Sen. Nancy Barto. The bill allows DHS to provide proficiency testing and remediate problems with third-party testing labs.

Arizona was the last medical marijuana state to mandate testing for medical cannabis with 2019's omnibus SB 1484. Testing was required beginning in November 2020 and with the onset of recreational sales in January 2021, there have been many problems with the system that led to shortages and several skirmishes between the dispensaries and the testing facilities.

Last month, cannabis tested by OnPoint Laboratories in Snowflake was recalled following test results that showed salmonella and mold. The contamination was discovered after the facility failed to detect either contaminate, but a verification of the test results uncovered the issue. While no one suffered any ill effects from the weed and OnPoint took full responsibility, SB 1833 gives the Arizona Department of Health Services more oversight.

"It is important that the DHS has that capacity, to be able to monitor and remediate where there are problems with testing," Robinette said.

Friese's HB 2414, which evolved into SB 1834, allows for unannounced dispensary inspections and requires that every dispensary gets at least one unannounced visit a year. SB 1834 also has a clause that states that a third-party testing company cannot be in a "familial or financial relationship" with any kind of dispensary or other marijuana business.

Thankfully, our vaunted leaders have the rest of the year off to recuperate before the next lousy batch of bills comes down the pike.

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