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Legislative gauntlet still stands before marijuana testing bill becoming law

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One of the biggest changes to the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act passed a major legislative hurdle when SB1420 cleared the state Senate with a 27-3 vote Feb. 22.

The main purpose of SB1420 is to protect consumers through increased regulation of the state's marijuana industry by legally requiring dispensaries to have their product tested by state-licensed laboratories.

The bill traversed a rocky road in its passage through the Senate, beginning with a close vote in its second committee hearing. Originally, the bill contained a provision to lower card fees for patients and caregivers from the current $150 to $50 with $25 renewals.

Senate Republicans believed that lower costs may result in an increase in the number of patients and promptly pulled their support for the bill, raising concerns among the bill's backers that it would fall short of the three-fourths vote needed to amend the voter-approved AMMA.

To keep the bill alive, Sen. Sonny Borelli (R-Lake Havasu City), pulled provisions for lower card cost fees.

But according to Arizona NORML Executive Director Mikel Weisser, the bill isn't out of the fire yet. He said there are concerns on both sides of the aisle over the legislation.

For starters, the bill goes a bit further than regulating testing. Other provisions include licensing testing facilities for marijuana testing, requiring dispensary employees to notify the state if working at more than one dispensary under different ownership and clearly labeling accurate potency information on marijuana and childproofing medical marijuana containers.

The main concern, however, is that the new testing standards will fall under the purview of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, yet another arm of Gov. Doug Ducey, and he has been among the Arizona politicians who support burdensome regulations on the industry with hopes of stifling medical marijuana in Arizona.

According to Weisser, the involvement of another state department has raised concerns among the Arizona medical marijuana industry workers and lobbyists.

Under the new bill, the Department of Agriculture will be responsible for holding the industry to the new testing regulation standards.

Profit margins in the industry are thin, Weisser said, and any burdensome regulation could eat into those profits, even to the point that business may become inviable.

Even among those fears, the consumers are Weisser's main concern. He estimates roughly half a million marijuana users in the state (beyond those registered in the medical marijuana program).

Given the choice, though, Weisser said he'd take the concerns of the state's marijuana users over those of the businesses. Admittedly a fine line for a policymaker, but he hopes it doesn't underscore his desire to continue working with businesses as well.

There is a silver bullet to any hypothetical plans Ducey may have, however. Amendments to the AMMA must further the intent of law—an Arizona constitutional protection to keep lawmakers from overwriting the will of the citizens.

Future regulations imposed on the industry will have to be carefully crafted so as not to run afoul of the state's constitution, and that might just be enough to keep marijuana legalization on track.

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