Sen. Borrelli drops lower fees from medical marijuana legislation

Ben Giles//February 13, 2018

Sen. Borrelli drops lower fees from medical marijuana legislation

Ben Giles//February 13, 2018

An effort to amend Arizona’s medical marijuana laws won’t include a measure lowering fees for patients.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, the sponsor of a bill to give the Department of Agriculture the authority to test marijuana as the agency does other edible crops, told his Republican colleagues on Tuesday that he’ll strip a provision in the bill that would have dramatically lowered fees the state collects when issuing registration cards to patients.

SB 1420 would have lowered the cost of obtaining a state-issued medical marijuana ID card from $150 to $50.

Rep. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City)
Rep. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City)

Renewing the registration would have cost $25, rather than another $150 fee currently charged to patients.

That provision didn’t sit well with Borrelli’s Republican colleagues, most of whom were prepared to vote against the bill if the lower fees remained.

Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he was “trying to find a happy medium” with the bill, which initially drew bipartisan support — 78 of his 89 colleagues in the Arizona Senate and House of Representatives signed onto SB 1420 as cosponsors.

Democrats like Rep. Mark Cardenas, who worked closely with Borrelli to draft SB 1420, were pleased with Borrelli’s effort to test marijuana crops for safety and accuracy, and that the bill included language to lower fees, which have been criticized as exhorbitant given that the state’s Medical Marijuana Fund, which is used to administer the program, is flush with cash.

But Republicans began to question their support after hearing testimony from opponents like Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who criticized the lower fees in a Senate hearing on February 1.

Polk claimed that cheaper ID cards, available only to patients at least 18 years old, would make it easier for “ kids” to obtain marijuana once they are legally adults.

Any significant opposition spells doom for Borrelli’s chances of getting SB 1420 approved. Because the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act was approved by voters, it’s protected from most legislative efforts to meddle with the law. The act can only be changed by a three-fourths majority vote in the House and Senate.

“When you have Sheila Polk coming to the committee hearing and yelling at the sponsor, and then you have all those Republican cosponsors peeling off, that says something,” said Joe DeMenna, a lobbyist for the Arizona Dispensaries Association. “So we understand that Sonny has to deal with his base. That’s the political reality he’s dealing with.”

DeMenna said dispensary owners were disappointed that lower card fees are off the table. Initially in favor of the bill, the association is now taking a neutral stance, DeMenna said.

The association still has concerns over the Department of Agriculture’s involvement as yet another agency with oversight of medical marijuana — the program is currently administered by the Department of Health Services. But they generally support the changes Borrelli’s proposed.

“The Arizona Dispensaries Association is not going to get in the way of progress. These are needed changes, and we know this,” DeMenna said.

Demitri Downing, executive director of the Marijuana Trade Industry Association of Arizona, said it was disappointing that Borrelli’s GOP colleagues drew a line in the sand to break up what Downing described as a bipartisan compromise bill.

“We would not support a product that did not honor the process of Democrats and Republicans working together. And that’s what legislation governed by the Voter Protection Act calls for,” Downing said.

Democrats may still support the other measures in SB 1420, including requirements that the Department of Agriculture develop testing standards for cannabis crops and new packaging requirements. But Downing urged them to withhold their votes and shelve the bill, for now.

“If I was a Democrat, I would say come back to the table, let’s do this next year,” he said.

Cardenas, a Phoenix Democrat who’s also cosponsored legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona, declined to comment.