MMJ: Good Tidings

New cannabis laws around the country make for hopeful 2020 recreational bids

'Tis the season for legislation, and, as one might expect, that means more good news for the proliferation of cannabis. What's less expected is where that's happening. Before we move on to the rest of the country, let's look at upcoming changes in our own state.

Perhaps the greatest legislation concerning cannabis this year is the potential testing bill that has long been on the minds of the community. It's no secret that a lack of testing regulation has marred the industry since it began, but little has been done to address the issue even in the face of contaminated cannabis.

Sen. David Gowan, a Republican representing Cochise, Greenlee and portions of Graham and Pima County, introduced SB 1494, which would direct the Arizona Department of Health Services to license laboratories to test cannabis before it makes its way to patients.

The licenses would come with an application limited by the costs of implementing the program and allow for remediation in the event contaminations are discovered.

The bill would also implement a reference library to document methods and findings as well as a council that would advise the DHS director in administering the testing.

The bill sailed through the Senate with an unanimous vote only to get held up in the House, where it has seen slow progress since the beginning of March. SB 1494 has passed its committee and caucus hearings and now awaits a floor vote.

Bills that have passed include the hemp acceleration bill that gets Arizona out in front of the national legalization of hemp and a revenue reporting bill that will increase the transparency of dispensary finances.

A bill to issue additional licenses to rural dispensaries that would serve areas outside of a 25-mile reach of other dispensaries also awaits a floor vote in the House.

Dispensaries would be unable to relocate to urban areas under these new licenses, which would not bode well for the pocketbooks, but would serve rural populations. The bill would also cut down on the number of patients allowed to grow their own cannabis—a likely impetus for its passing.

In other states, the green tide continues to sweep across electorates and legislatures alike.

North Dakota became the 25th state to decriminalize cannabis in early April, eliminating felony consequences for limited possession charges. A quantity less than half an ounce now bears only a $250 fine, classified as a Class B misdemeanor.

Anything above a half-pound of cannabis remains a Class C felony, which carries up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The bill allegedly comes amidst fears of a recreational ballot measure lined up for 2020, apparently meant to alleviate some of the concerns the measure would address in hopes that the electorate will reject it.

New Mexico decriminalized cannabis shortly before, reducing the penalty for amounts up to half an ounce of cannabis to only $50.

The Texas Legislature is poised to do the same as its House approved a decriminalization bill in March.

Also on the horizon, Alabama and Nebraska have medical cannabis bills that have cleared at least one legislative chamber and could expand on the "limited THC" programs that exist there now.

Most southern states have adopted a form of legalized cannabis with low concentrations of THC, but only a handful have allowed for patients to purchase full-spectrum strains or concentrates.

Legislatures making strides in cannabis legalization in even the reddest states bodes well for those states looking to make a 202o bid for recreational ballot measures (including our own).

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