The Arizona legislature begins with a flood of hashish payments


Chris Kudialis, January 12, 2020

Legislators meet for a short three-month session in Phoenix, which opens Monday morning. (dszc / iStock)

Nearly four years have passed since Arizona voters rejected legalizing adult cannabis – the only one out of five states that rejected it in November 2016. Now the supporters in the Grand Canyon state are preparing to legalize the facility in late 2020.

"We hope that the 237,000 signatures required will be available by May and that the campaign will start shortly after," said Mikel Weisser, Managing Director of Arizona NORML (the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws).

Weisser, who has been involved in the state's NORML chapter since 2014, expects 2020 to be a banner year in Arizona for both medical cannabis and adult cannabis. He said that beef between the cannabis industry leaders and marijuana advocates at the base in 2016 sparked "significant" disagreement over the failed proposal 205 and even voted against some of the pro-cannabis residents.

Disagreements over business interests and growing rights have been resolved, Weisser said, and the Arizona cannabis industry is "more consistent than ever". To offset the 2.5% loss four years ago, Weisser has already started campaigning in rural Arizona. In the ballot box, he called the non-urban population "vital" for success.

"We have this community on our side instead of opposing it," he said. "We know we'll get Phoenix and Tucson, but it's also about getting people outside the big cities."

New meeting opens on Monday

Numerous cannabis-related challenges await you until November in the upcoming legislative period, which opens in Phoenix on Monday. Republicans control the governor's house, senate, and mansion – and the party here has traditionally spoken out against cannabis reform, despite the growing openness to legalization among Republicans across the country.

Several cannabis-related bills are expected to be examined in the next four-month session. One of the leading measures would concern the medical access of pediatric patients on the school premises. Students with serious illnesses such as cancer and epilepsy can take medical forms of cannabis at school.

If passed, the draft law would be an exception to existing state law, which prohibits all forms of cannabis on the school premises.

Weisser said that medical cannabis would come in capsule or oil form, not as a brownie or a smokable flower. Similar measures were taken in California and Colorado last year and Illinois in 2018.

Ban Eagle 20, but not everything?

Another measure deals with pesticides in the medical cannabis cultivation process. An expected bill explicitly prohibits the use of pesticides in cultural institutions, except for those that are not regulated by the U.S. Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

The pesticide law promoted by Senator Sonny Borelli, the majority Republican whip, specifically referred to the fungicide Eagle 20. The popular agricultural product is often used on lawn and fruit trees. However, Eagle 20 produces a highly toxic gas when heated above 400 degrees, which is why its use on tobacco plants is prohibited. (Related to the fact that ordinary cannabis flowers burn at around 450 degrees.) There is currently no specific state law that prohibits the use of Eagle 20 on cannabis grown in Arizona and sold to medical patients.

Eagle 20 has few fans, but Borelli's early design goes too far for some.

Borrelli's draft law SB 1015 would ban all pesticides identified nationwide – not just Eagle 20 – which would make some industry representatives cry. If passed, SB 1015 would only leave essential oils and natural peppers among the only approved pesticides.

Pele Fischer, an Arizona lobbyist representing the state pharmacy association, argued that Borelli's new pesticide-free standard would not allow growers to meet pharmacy needs for high-quality cannabis.

Other calculations to consider

Sen. Borelli also plans to sponsor two bills that could be considered "trust but verify" measures. These measures would give the Arizona Treasury Department access to certain records kept by state-licensed medical marijuana pharmacies.

Borelli informed the local media that the additional checks would ensure that the pharmacies actually raised the state sales tax and transferred it to the responsible marijuana regulatory agency, the Department of Health Services.

Another expected bill would increase the number of diseases that are suitable for legal medical cannabis use. A measure funded by Rep. Diego Espinoza (D-Tolleson) adds opioid use and autism to the list of qualification conditions for the state.

A separate bill, sponsored by Rep. Diego Rodriguez, calls for certain marijuana-related crimes to be eliminated for less than 2.5 ounces of flower.

Main actors in the meeting

As with most state legislatures, some powerful legislators can take advantage of or negate the chances of a measure. Here are a few people to watch in Phoenix over the next three months.

MP Pamela Powers Hannley (D-Tuscon)
Powers Hannley sponsored separate cannabis cards to increase the value of medical marijuana cards as part of a total of four cannabis cards in the past year. She was also a strong voice in the enforcement of SB1494, a measure supported by the bus industry that established stringent new testing requirements to improve the quality of medical cannabis sold to pharmacies. The mega-bill also made the state's $ 150 medical marijuana card valid for two years, instead of just one.

Powers Hannley told the Arizona Capitol Times last June that it advocated full legalization of cannabis to end the "control" of the plant.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City)
Borelli, the majority whip, has long supported the industrial hemp farmers in Arizona. His 2018 bill paved the way for local farmers to finally grow hemp last year.

Rep. Randall Friese (D-Tucson):
Friese sponsored a second change to SB1494 last year that allows medical cannabis patients to hold their state-issued cards every two years renew annually. His draft law on the legalization of medical cannabis foods was voted against in March last year. Food and other cannabis-producing products were legalized in a Supreme Court ruling later this year.

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Chris Kudialis is a Las Vegas-based cannabis reporter. He has written articles for the Los Angeles Times, Las Vegas Sun, Charlotte Observer, Houston Chronicle, Detroit Free Press and the Brazilian Rio Times.