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Yee offers medical marijuana reforms as alternative to repeal

Peoria resident Michael Cardenas, 19, said he’s happy to finally have a place he can purchase medical marijuana. Cardenas was one of several people waiting Dec. 6 to buy pot from Arizona Organix, the state's first medical marijuana dispensary. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times.)

Peoria resident Michael Cardenas, 19, said he’s happy to finally have a place he can purchase medical marijuana. Cardenas was one of several people waiting Dec. 6 to buy pot from Arizona Organix, the state's first medical marijuana dispensary. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times.)

A Republican state senator is gaining bipartisan support for bills that would reform Arizona’s medical marijuana law rather than repealing it, as one Republican lawmaker would prefer.

Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, introduced four bills late Monday that she says strengthen Arizona’s medical marijuana program, making it more workable in the long term.

Yee’s proposals come as Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, wants voters to repeal the medical marijuana law in 2014 with a revote on the system narrowly approved by Arizona voters in 2010.

“All of these four bills are alternatives to repealing the law,” Yee said.

Yee said she did not support the medical marijuana ballot measure in 2010 but stressed that a complete repeal could backfire on Republicans.

“We, Republicans, have to be strategic and smart about what we put forward,” she said, “and the sentiment is that when we try to repeal something, it looks like we’re trying to undo the will of the people.”

Yee said she would expect a repeal bill to drive medical marijuana supporters to the polls in 2014, and that she thinks those same voters would vote against Republican candidates “up and down the ticket.”

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and both chambers have co-sponsored at least one of Yee’s bills, including Republican Sens. Chester Crandell, Steve Pierce, Kelli Ward and Steve Yarbrough, along with Democratic Sens. Steve Gallardo, Katie Hobbs, Jack Jackson Jr., Linda Lopez and Robert Meza.

Republican Reps. Brenda Barton, Kate Brophy McGee, Heather Carter, Justin Pierce and T.J. Shope have joined Democratic Reps. Lela Alston, Chad Campbell, Mark Cardenas, Eric Meyer and Martin Quezada in support of at least one of Yee’s bills.

The four reform bills each tie up loopholes in the voter-approved system that have already proven to be troublesome, Yee said.

• SB1440 would make it illegal to advertise or market a medical marijuana product as intended for anything other than medical use. Yee said that change comes in response to the less-than-medical tone sometimes used to advertise and market medical marijuana “edibles,” like lollipops, cookies and sodas.

• SB1441 would allow law enforcement to destroy medical marijuana obtained during a criminal investigation, as is done with non-medical marijuana. That change springs from a case in Yuma, where police seized a California woman’s medical marijuana, but were forced to return it by a court, which the police say forced them to violate federal drug distribution laws. Yee said the change would clear up any legally grey area there. Yee also pointed out that the change would mean that police who seize medical marijuana plants would not be required to continue caring for and cultivating the plants while the plants are in the possession of the police.

• SB1443 would tweak the current ban on medical marijuana in an educational facility to allow marijuana research sanctioned by the federal government. Yee said a University of Arizona researcher has been given authorization to conduct research on marijuana, but that the state law currently bars it from taking place.

• SB1442 is a technical change that renumbers a section of the program’s provisions.

Noting other tweaks she authored in 2011 and 2012, Yee said that these changes to Arizona’s medical marijuana law are just the latest she has helped push in the Legislature since the law passed.

“These are not trying to water down the law, but strengthen the law,” she said.

Yee said that she doesn’t know whether she would support a repeal bill, as has been proposed by Kavanagh, because she hasn’t read the bill.

Kavanagh has said that even though he has no co-sponsors on his repeal bill, a full repeal is popular among many lawmakers and that it could easily be passed through the Legislature.

Kavanagh’s bill has not yet been assigned for any hearings, and he said he expects pending cases that have been appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court will affect what happens with his proposal.

House Speaker Andy Tobin said it’s too early to say whether Kavanagh’s bill will be moved through the Legislature.

“It’s still up in the air,” he said.

Legislative ballot referrals usually wait until later in the session to be moved through the process, he noted.

Tobin said he also believes there would be plenty of support for a repeal bill.

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