By Mikel Weisser, editor of Arizona Cannabis Monthly and State Director, Arizona NORML. Reprinted with permission.
We have been following the AZ state legislature for six years now and have never seen such an avalanche of ccannabis-related bills in the opening week at the Capitol. Seventeen cannabis-related bills came in the opening week. In addition to fourteen that impact AZ’s cannabis laws, there are also 3 bills aiming to amend the citizens’ initiative process, which could affect future legalization initiatives. The MJ bills fall into four groups: attempts to modify the AMMA, attempts to reform the criminal justice system that touch on cannabis charges, modifications to the recently passed hemp law or attempts to regulate E-cigarettes and vape products that will impinge on cannabis issues.
What makes this week’s bumper crop of cannabis legislation interesting is that many of the bill ideas in the works that we wrote about last week haven’t even been filed yet. Last week we wrote that there were 3 bills aiming to establish testing. This week it appears there are FIVE in the works and none are filed yet. The cannabis definitions bill we were expecting has not been filed but another is making the news by beating it to the punch. Here is a quick guide
1003 (Borrelli-R, LD5) A follow-up bill on last year’s hemp legalization that accelerates the licensing of AZ hemp growers now that the federal government has approved industrial hemp production nationwide. New start date for licensing on June 1, 2019. Probability of Success: >95%
1024 (Borrelli-R, LD5) Even though Borrelli has been the leading reformer on cannabis issues the past two years, make no mistake, he’s still a “law and order” type more interested in strictly regulating the industry, than “freeing the weed.” In the aftermath of last year’s tangles with the industry, which left two of his bills to die at the final vote, Borrelli has increased his efforts to rein in MMJ. This bill would require DHS to share dispensary sales data with Dept of Revenue to track dispensaries’ income and better monitor if they’re paying their taxes, under penalty of license revocation. This bill also has an emergency clause meaning it takes effect immediately. While taxes and regulation sound like good ideas, this one may be too harsh without amendments. Probability of Success: <50% (It would be hard to argue against directly but expect industry lobbyists to try to challenge it behind the scenes.)
2021 (Finchem-R, LD11) One of the shortest substantive bills this session, this would expand the citizens’ initiative program in the state to allow online signatures. Probability of Success: >50% (This would make it easier, not harder for ballot measures, so expect bipartisan support; though it’s likely Democrats will like it better than Republicans.)
2023 (Kavanagh-R, LD23) Extends election protections to signs and campaign materials for ballot measures. Probability of Success: 65% (Though neither side is likely to object to the idea in theory, the bill itself is so innocuous it’s likely to get lost in the shuffle of the estimated 1500 bills that get filed each session.)
2073 (Shope-R, LD8) A whole new piece of legislation, this bill aims to regulate the E-Cigarette or nicotine vape industry. There’s only one line that pertains to cannabis, but it’s a biggie: As written the bill prohibits e-cigarette or vape products from containing “cannabidiol [CBD] or cannabis.” This bill would not regulate the existing AMMA dispensary vape pen market; but it would prevent smoke shops from marketing CBD products. Expect amendments. Probability of Success: <50% unamended, >75% if amended to protect the CBD market.
2149 (Rivero-R, LD21) The most relevant bill to the patient community in 2018 and the industry itself so far, this bill ends AZ’s concentrates crisis (AKA the Jones case) by protecting cannabis concentrates in the program through redefining cannabis and marijuana in the criminal statutes (ARS13-3401) and removing “cannabis” from the list of narcotics. Redefining cannabis as marijuana and including it in the definition of marijuana, this bill clarifies that concentrated cannabis products are protected by the AMMA without actually having to amend the AMMA. This bill also corrects extraneous references to cannabis in other statutes, like zoning and drug abuse program statutes. There’s no other way to say it, the biggest issue in AZ cannabis can be solved by this bill. Expect to see lots of press on this one. Probability of Success: >75% (Most importantly, because it doesn’t touch the AMMA it only requires an up or down vote, not the 3/4s necessary to amend a citizens’ initiative. Click here to read my longer analysis of this bill for the Arizona Cannabis Monthly.)
2260 (Thorpe-R, LD6) A companion bill to Shope’s 2073, this bill adds “Electronic Smoking Devices” to the list of “drugs” DHS is supposed to educate the schoolkids about the dangers of. Marijuana is on that list, of course. It further allocates an additional $1 million from DHS for grants to “facility-based nonprofit youth development organizations” to create the programs. Probability of Success: >75%
2273 (Dunn-R, LD13) The House sister bill to Borrelli 1003 hemp program acceleration bill. Dunn represents the region of the state that first started the push for hemp legalization. Probability of Success: >75%
2362 (Toma-R, LD22) Part of the huge criminal justice reform effort at the Capitol this session, this bipartisan bill has ten co-sponsors including the Speaker of the House (Bowers-R, LD25). This expungement bill provides for people to have their criminal records sealed or removed if a person is found not guilty or serves their debt to society, though heavier felonies have longer waiting periods for expungements. Probability of Success: >75%
2387 (Hernandez, D-D, LD2) taking up the mantle of adding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to the state’s list of qualifying conditions, Rep. Daniel Hernandez returns to an issue he’d pursued in the 2018 session. The effort to add ASD also saw an administrative challenge at DHS last year, as patients petitioned DHS to add ASD then lost on appeal, in part due to the Jones Case ruling which claimed that concentrates were narcotics. Probability of Success: <50% (Though a great idea and now having even more research to back the validity of cannabis for ASD than last year, Hernandez wears a “D-as-in-Democrat” label and his party is a minority in both houses.)
2400 (Engel-D, LD10) Another piece of the criminal justice reform movement, this bill removes “mandatory minimum sentencing” requirements. Probability of Success: <75% (Again a committee of sponsors, including the Speaker are on board, but the lead sponsor is a Democrat. If this one passes it will be a sign that bipartisan has become more than a slogan and the appetite for criminal justice reform is real. That would be a change of direction for a state that is the nation’s leader in imprisoning its citizens.)
2401 (Engel-D, LD10) Criminal justice reform, part three: This bill allows convicted felons to automatically have their voting rights restored when they complete their time served or probation. Probability of Success: <50% (While restoring prisoners’ right to vote is a fantastic idea and in keeping with the 13th Amendment, there are no Rs on this bill.)
2402 (Engel-D, LD10) Criminal justice reform, part four: This lowers penalties for a variety of “criminal drug offenses,” including precursor chemicals and narcotics. Though it mentions marijuana when it comes to the terms of probation, it does not change existing statute for MMJ cardholders. Probability of Success: <50% (The only R on this one is Rep David Stringer (R-LD1) who is currently in the doghouse at the Capitol after generating national news coverage for making apparently racist remarks while guest lecturing at ASU. Stringer had in fact been the leader on the criminal justice reform effort and was even given his own ad hoc committee for the project only to have his chairmanship stripped and the committee dissolved.)
2404 (Payne-R, LD21) Criminal Justice Reform, part five is the one we’ve been waiting for: this one directly addresses marijuana possession felonies and arrest records. (Currently in AZ, any amount of marijuana is considered a felony and the felony arrest is a permanent mark on a person’s record, jeopardizing job prospects and a myriad of other opportunities.) Under this bill, possession of less than two and a half ounces becomes a petty offense for the first and second offenses. Arizona NORML has been working on this idea for six years now and this is the first time it has a serious chance of progress. Crafted by Engel and supported by 12 co-sponsors, this bill has a Republican prime sponsor, Payne, and even earned the support of former DEA pilot, Rep Noel Campbell (R, LD1). Probability of Success: >50%
2412 (Powers-Hannley-D, LD9) An MMJ cardholder herself, Rep. Pamela Powers-Hannley filed reform bills each year since winning election in 2016. This is a revamp of her 2018 MMJ card extension bill, which amends the AMMA to extend patient cards duration from one to two years. DHS has expressed approval for the idea since it not only cuts patient costs in half, but also halves their administrative costs of maintaining the patient registry. Expect this idea to reappear in MITA’s omnibus AMMA reform bill (Friese-D, LD9), yet to be filed this session. Probability of Success: <50% Though it also has 12 cosponsors, all of them are Ds and lowering card costs had been a major sticking point in last year’s reform efforts.
2435 (Powers-Hannley-D, LD9) Taking a different approach to lowering card costs, this bill simply slashes the patient application fee from $150 to a mere $50. Sure to be popular among patients, this bill proved quite popular with Democratic legislators as well, garnering fifteen D cosponsors … and zero Rs. Probability of Success: <25% Not only don’t Republicans like this idea, DHS claims the revenue cut would cripple their operations.
HCR2005 (Kavanagh-R, LD23) Bill would require initiatives gather a proportional number of signatures from each county. This means professional signature gatherers would have to work the whole state and get signatures proportionally similar to the way statewide candidates have to. It would all but disable most grassroots reform efforts by making the logistics too difficult for volunteer groups. Probability of Success: <50% (Ironically, House Concurrent Resolutions are typically sent to the voters as referendums and voters aren’t as likely to make it harder on themselves to pass ballot measures.)
Mikel Weisser is also the State Director, Arizona NORML