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Medical Marijuana: Bud Bills 

A raft of legislation aims to shake up the cannabis industry this year

Every year, cannabis becomes more popular. And every year, more people have ideas about how to tax, propagate, regulate and defend the industry.

This year, bills of all stripes, from Democrats and Republicans, have already been introduced that have one implication or another for cannabis.

A couple weeks ago we talked about a bill from Rep. Tony Rivero (R-Maricopa) that would strike the definition of "cannabis" from the state's drug statutes. While it's probably the most significant bill, it's not the only one the industry has its eyes on.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) is back to push even harder for Arizona's impending hemp industry with an emergency bill to move up the deadline for the state to issue licenses to farmers.

Borrelli introduced last year's bill that eventually led to the plan to allow Arizona farmers to grow industrial hemp. Currently, the program is set to start Aug. 4, under last year's bill. SB1003 wants to push that date up to May 31.

Presumably the concern is that Arizona will miss the hemp train after the federal government legalized industrial hemp with the 2018 Farm Bill last December. Already, 25 states grow hemp, with Montana and Colorado at the forefront.

Another of Borelli's bills would require the Arizona Department of Health Services to provide cannabis sales data from dispensaries to the Department of Revenue in order to better verify taxes.

It's unlikely there's many dispensaries shirking tax responsibilities. Most dispensary agents are so concerned with losing their license that they add a flaming hoop for good measure when the state asks them to jump.

Data like this could have a lot of uses, though, the state probably doesn't have the resources for in-depth analysis. (Few governments do.) The industry already has services for dispensaries to use this kind of data to maximize returns to patients and, yes, themselves.

However, cannabis prohibitionists could easily find a way to "interpret" the data to cast the industry in a negative light. Borrelli might have a hard time arguing that this bill has a net benefit. Tucson representatives in particular seem to be thinking about cannabis.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley (D-Tucson) has introduced no fewer than four cannabis bills: two addressing card fees; one that is similar bill to Rivero's solution to the definition of cannabis; and a bill to lower cannabis possession penalties to a $100 fee for amounts under one ounce.

Powers Hannley is taking the shotgun approach to cannabis fixes. HB2412 would extend patient registration by one year, effectively cutting fees in half. HB2435 would simply lower the cost from $150 to $50 per year.

Instead of simply slashing the word "cannabis" from the statutes, HB2554 would amend the definition to include "all parts of any plant of the genus cannabis" and all products manufactured from that plant, then to simply define "marijuana" as "cannabis."

It's a long road the get the words to (legally, beyond any possible misinterpretation) mean the same thing.

Rivero's bill is a bit more elegant. And with a Republican sponsor, his bill is more likely to make it through both chambers. Unfortunately, that's the hurdle for any Democrat's bill. If it pertains to a controversial subject and requires revising a voter-initiated law, it's all the more difficult.

Rep. Randy Friese (D-Tucson) has also introduced a bill to make some changes to the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. They're not subtle. HB2573 would revise several aspects of the AMMA, which seem balanced between Democrat and Republican concerns at face value.

The bill covers a lot of what other bills seek to do. It defines extracts (including, but not limited to shatter, wax and even suppositories), extends patient registration by a year and even mandates third party testing in the industry.

The bill would also reduce the allowable number of plants from 12 to six, require fingerprint verification for caregivers and dispensary agents, and expressly allow out-of-state medical marijuana registration cards.

It's a big overhaul for the AMMA and touches on many of the primary issues the industry has faced in the last year. Whether state Republicans will allow it to see the light of day is another question.

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