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On the Move

The good, the bad and the ugly of potential changes to Arizona medical marijuana

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As two bills affecting Arizona's medical marijuana industry continue to progress through the Legislature, their eventual passage could spell out some good news and some bad news for the business.

In case you missed it, SB1420, introduced by Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City), would put the Arizona Department of Agriculture in charge of testing marijuana grown and sold in the state. Licensed laboratories would be responsible for independently reporting the amount of mold and pesticides and the THC and CBD concentrations of products sold in dispensaries.

The bill has received near unanimous support with 20 of 22 representatives supporting its vote in two committee hearings.

While the intention of SB1420 likely protects consumers from bad weed, the bill has a different meaning to dispensaries.

Industry workers have reportedly seen samples of marijuana with wildly under-reported amounts of THC sold to consumers as well as unhealthy amounts of mold. No doubt this is not the kind of product that should be making it into the hands of consumers, especially as a medicine.

While many dispensaries will already purport to test their product to keep up appearances with competitors, clearly some aren't being entirely honest. That isn't to say your dispensary is a culprit. In fact, the one investigation done to uncover this practice pointed fingers at a Phoenix dispensary.

Though most dispensaries already test, making it a legal requirement could increase the costs of such testing. Many dispensaries operate on thin profit margin, and an increase in cost will likely lead to higher prices as opposed to dispensaries shutting down.

Additionally, there aren't very many testing labs in Arizona, and it isn't clear how many the state will license. With a sufficiently small market for testing, there may not be much incentive for labs to keep prices low.

Not to mention labs will have to hire more employees to face the increase in volume brought about by the new requirement. How all these pieces will fall into place is still unclear.

HB2064, introduced by Rep. Vince Leach (R-Saddlebrooke), has a bit of a different tone. It would make it illegal for dispensaries to sell marijuana in packaging attractive to minors, meaning no cartoons, images of kids or certain celebrities usually aimed at marketing to kids.

There is an upside to the measure. To get support for the bill, Leach amended the bill to include opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana patients.

The bill has already passed the House of Representatives and received the vote of seven of eight members of the Senate Commerce and Public Safety Committee.

However, Leach's concerns about sales to minors seem to rest on little evidence. At the point of sale, no minors without a medical marijuana card are making purchases. If the concern is minors finding the packaging at home, then why not institute a similar rule for drain cleaner?

If parents can keep their kids from drinking detergent that looks like juice, they can keep them from smoking pot with cartoons on the packaging. And if a minor is old enough to make the distinction, then whether the package is attractive or not won't factor much into their decision making.

But if the price for a much-needed addition to qualifying conditions is boring packaging, then it might not be a battle worth fighting. Despite claims to the contrary, medical marijuana provides a viable alternative to opioid use.

A recent study found that CBD prevents drug relapses in rats at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Though rats are far from human, the evidence supports the claim.

Even if HB2064 clears the legislature, the governor's desk will likely prove its greatest hurdle. Gov. Doug Ducey's disapproval of marijuana is not secret, and he'll have to weigh his purported concern over the state's opioid crisis with his disdain for medical marijuana.

Hopefully he's honest enough about finding solutions to opioid addiction to make a concession for the state's medical marijuana program.

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