Leading Legislation

Some bills fare better than others, but legislative changes come to AZ cannabis

Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City)

The Arizona Legislature is in full swing, and according to Arizona NORML, six of a record-breaking 31 cannabis bills still live, some in more limbo than others. Here's a roundup:

• SB1003. The most successful, riding the coattails of the national 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the production of hemp across the country last fall, has been Rep. Sonny Borrelli's hemp acceleration bill, which would move the deadline to begin the program from Aug. 4 to June 1.

The stigma that follows most cannabis that's rife with THC doesn't seem to follow hemp, which legally contains less than .3 percent of the plant's psychoactive element.

While both THC and CBD contain medicinal benefit, many consumers (and politicians) seem to feel better endorsing the more physiological effects of CBD.

This has led to a largely unregulated market for CBD products that appear everywhere from online to new shops popping up in town. Like the medical cannabis industry, businesses will test, but there's no requirement behind it.

• SB 1494. Sen. David Gowan's bill to require the Arizona Department of Health Services to oversee testing in the state's medical cannabis program passed the House Health and Human Services on March 29. SB1494 awaits a hearing before the House Rules Committee before heading to the floor.

Testing has been a much-sought-after regulation since concerns about mold and other contaminants in dispensary cannabis surfaced over the past couple years. A similar bill failed last year after a provision to lower card fees for patients was struck from the bill.

SB 1494 also limits the fee structure of licensing for testing laboratories and dispensaries to not exceed the funds required to regulate the program. While this may cut down on dispensary fees, it's unknown yet whether this will lead to cheaper products for patients.

The bill would also establish a testing reference library of protocols, methodologies and samples and a testing advisory council that would make recommendations to the AZDHS director. The council would mostly contain representatives of dispensaries and labs, but also a patient and a veteran.

• SB1021. Another of Borrelli's successful bills allows the Arizona Department of Revenue to review confidential information for the AZDHS to confirm dispensaries adhere to tax requirements. The bill passed through the legislature and was awaiting approval from Gov. Doug Ducey as of the Weekly's deadline.

The bill will protect the confidential information of patients but collect supplier and sales data from dispensaries. It would also allow the AZDHS to revoke the licenses of dispensaries found non-compliant with tax laws.

• HB2149. Rep. Tony Rivero's bill to redefine cannabis as a legal substance under state statutes has been stuck in the House Rules Committee since mid-February, presumably because the issue looks like it'll be resolved through an Arizona Supreme Court decision in the next few months.

In late March, the court heard oral arguments over the case of State v. Jones, in which Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk incarcerated a patient found with cannabis concentrates.

General reports from industry professionals, including criminal justice attorney and owner of Cave Creek Dispensary Alex Lane, appear hopeful about the justices' ruling. The questions during oral arguments were more pointed toward the Yavapai County Attorney's Office and Polk did not represent her case.

• SB1286. Another bill stuck in the House Rules Committee, SB1286 prioritizes dispensary applications for those in rural areas. Following a three-year constraint on relocating dispensaries, many owners moved in to more populous areas where increased demand leads to increased profit.

The status of dispensaries that receive licenses under the priority application process would bar them from relocating unless it's within the same town or another area in which there's no dispensary within a 25-mile radius.

These licenses will serve well for mom-and-pop shops that want to try and grab a piece of the green rush themselves, or larger dispensaries with multiple locations that can take a potential loss on a low-revenue area.

• SCR1021. Finally, an omnibus package also introduced by Borelli, SCR1021 would mandate testing, give the Arizona Department of Agriculture control of regulating cannabis cultivation, lower card fees to $100 for a renewal every two years and allow previously prohibited felons to apply for patient registration.

The package would be placed on the ballot during 2020 elections for voter approval where it would sit alongside efforts by the Arizona Dispensaries Association to introduce a ballot initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis. However, the bill has been retained in the Senate since early March with little chance of escaping.

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