Cashed Out

click to enlarge Cashed Out
Courtesy Photo

A major cannabis bill FAILED last week in the final days of the legislative session.

While it had passed the Senate, House Bill 2050 failed in the House of Representatives on a vote of 36-22. Although a majority of House members were in favor of the legislation, it required a two-thirds majority to pass because Arizona’s legalization laws were passed as ballot propositions and are subject to the Voter Protection Act.

The bill aimed to resolved multiple issues with current cannabis law, including funding for research, issues with testing cannabis products and reducing the cost of medical cards for veterans.

The legislation would have assisted recent social equity applicants by changing adult-use licenses to “dual licenses” and allowing medical alongside recreational sales. These social equity licenses, created as part of 2020’s legalization of adult recreational use of cannabis, were designed to repair some of the harms associated with the decades-long war on drugs by giving ownership opportunities to individuals impacted by previous drug laws.

But the clock is ticking for those who hope to open shops with social equity licenses. The establishments have to be set up within a year and a half of April’s lottery drawing awarding the licenses. However, many communities in Arizona are just starting to develop zoning regulations regarding recreational shops, so there’s a tight timeline for license holders to get their shops open.

The proposed change in licensing could have helped solve zoning issues in places like Tucson that are not set up to accommodate adult-use-only establishments. It would also increase access in rural communities where there are vast distances between dispensaries.

Mike Robinette, executive director Arizona NORML, said he was “incredibly disappointed” by the bill’s failure.

Robinette said the bill was the result of multiple meetings with various stakeholders to address multiple issues with cannabis laws in Arizona.

“The bill would have brought relief to rural medical marijuana patients, veterans, and create licensing for social equity applicants to allow them to fully compete in the market,” Robinette said via email. “Furthermore, the bill would have created more access points for patients in both rural and urban locations and enhanced market competition.”

But the bill faced opposition from the Arizona Dispensary Association, a trade group for dispensary owners which took a firm stand against the bill, calling out proponents for moving too quickly to pass “sweeping changes” to the industry without broader consent.

Some of the opposition to the bill came from a provision that would reward a pair of dispensary owners involved in litigation with ADHS over dispensary applications filed in 2017.

Moe Asnani, owner of Tucson’s Downtown Dispensary and D2, said that lawmakers who voted against the bill “should be thanked.”

“I think it is an untenable precedent for any individual to use Arizona taxpayer resources including legislative time to retroactively create an exclusive application window for himself and award himself licenses while using social equity licensees as shields,” Asnai said. “Some may call it highly inequitable.”

With this bill’s failure, no major cannabis legislation passed this session.

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