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Bitter politicians maintain high MMJ card fees in defiance of patients

The banners have been raised once again in the legal battle to reduce fees for medical marijuana cards in Arizona.

Last week, attorney Sean Berberian filed with the Arizona Court of Appeals to crack down on the Arizona Department of Health Service's exorbitant card fees.

The case is the next stage in an ongoing effort that began more than a year ago when plaintiffs sued the ADHS over the $150 fee for a medical card and the $200 fee for a caregiver card.

This summer, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry declared that, while she agreed with the lawsuit's premise, she did not have power to force the state to lower the fees.

The 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act clearly states the ADHS must collect revenue "sufficient" to run the program. Every year since its implementation, however, funds acquired by the health department have far exceeded the cost of the program.

So while not explicitly illegal, that means the health department is sitting on millions of dollars of patients' cash with no clear intention of its use.

Berberian even suggested evidence shows Gov. Doug Ducey and former Gov. Jan Brewer instructed the ADHS "to keep fees as high as possible to deter patients," the Capitol Media Service reports.

Last year, the fund ended up with an excess of nearly $11.5 million, which continues to grow by roughly $3 million a year, ADHS reports show.

The account's current balance sits at around $38.1 million, health officials told Capitol Media Service.

So instead of reducing the fee for Arizona's 150,000 patients, caregivers and dispensary agents, the state would rather keep $40 million locked up in a vault with no way to spend it.

Aside from the ludicrous hoarding on the part of the state, $150 a year doesn't come cheap to some patients.

One of Berberian's clients lives on $1,100 a month and has to borrow money for her yearly fee.

Another of Berberian's clients is a caregiver for her granddaughter, bringing her yearly fee to a total of $350.

Keep in mind the fee is on top of the cost of consistently paying for medical marijuana, which alone can cost hundreds of dollars a month.

Yet health officials still are not willing to lift a finger to change the fee.

"This is part and parcel of the state's ongoing effort to try to limit Arizonans from getting access to legal medical marijuana," Berberian told Capitol Media Service. "At every turn, the state and our governor has tried to prevent Arizonans from getting access."

And he's right. The fee is another in a long line of attempts to keep medical marijuana patients from receiving their medication.

This state has thrown everything it can at the medical marijuana program since its inception.

From Brewer claiming the state couldn't assign dispensary licenses due to conflicts with federal laws to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's frivolous lawsuits against dispensaries and concentrates, Arizonans have had to fight every step of the way for their right to medical marijuana.

It's time for the state to back off. It's time to accept that medical marijuana changes people's lives for the better. And it's time to stop punishing patients for rejecting the medical-industrial complex in favor of something that works.

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