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Pre-rolled Legislation

Pot bills get another shot at becoming law

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The Arizona Legislature kicked off its 53rd session last week, bringing with it the possibility for some changes to the state's marijuana laws.

Democratic Rep. Mark Cardenas from Phoenix introduced two bills related to marijuana, a legalization effort in HB2003 and the more hopeful loosening of penalties for possession in HB2002.

Cardenas' bills aim for some familiar aspects of Proposition 205, Arizona's failed marijuana legalization ballot initiative. Perhaps bolstered by the small margin by which Prop 205 failed, Cardenas' bills are getting more attention than they have the previous two years that he's submitted similar legislation.

While neither has even seen a committee hearing in previous years, HB2002 may have some renewed consideration since ending felony punishment for marijuana possession was one of Prop 205's biggest and most-supported selling points.

Arizona is currently the only state in which possession of amounts as small as a joint could land you in an ever tighter joint. That was the change that backers of Prop 205 hoped to bring about with the initiative, but may get a second chance at it in the legislature.

HB2002 would make possession under an ounce a $100 civil penalty, anything under two pounds a petty offense and anything more than that a Class 3 misdemeanor.

Roughly 15,000 Arizonans are arrested under marijuana possession charges each year. While not all of those get charged as a felony, the state certainly has that power. Usually, it's left up to the discretion of the prosecuting attorney and may be subject to "3-strike" rules.

Cardenas' bill would get rid of the possibility of harsher sentencing and introduce some uniformity to the way marijuana arrests are handled in Arizona.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Eddie Farnsworth, a Republican from Gilbert, has apparently expressed support for decriminalization and may provide a crucial ally as a committee chair and in gaining support from across the aisle—a crucial element in the Republican-controlled legislature.

HB2003 is a long shot, not only because of Arizona's deeply Republican-controlled legislature, but because no state legislature has ever legalized marijuana.

All states that have currently legalized marijuana for recreational use did so through citizen ballot initiatives. For a legislature to pass legalization would be a first. Though, not everyone is happy with the way Arizona's ballot initiatives have been going lately.

Some legislatures seek to change the rules governing citizen-led ballot initiatives, which could upset future pushes for marijuana legalization in the coming years. While they seem to be more upset by Arizona's increase in minimum wage, Prop 205 certainly would have been lumped in there had it passed.

Proposed changes would increase requirements on registering signature collectors, require a certain percentage of signatures from rural counties and give legislators more power to change ballot initiatives after they've passed, citing that citizens aren't aware of the permanency of passed proposals.

A final bill that merits mention is SB1045 from Sen. Sonny Borrelli, a Lake Havasu City Republican, who wants to disarm laws surrounding to hemp. Borrelli's bill would legalize marijuana plants with less than 0.3 percent THC as a boost for Arizona textile farmers.

While the textile industry hasn't been as adamantly opposed to legalization as alcohol or pharmaceutical interests, the legalization of hemp has the ability to disrupt the market in much the same way.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has raised issue with this bill over concerns of how officers would tell the difference between marijuana grown for hemp and marijuana grown for consumption.

Borrelli replied, matter-of-factly, that you can tell by the shape of the leaf itself.

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