Republican lawmakers rejected a bid Thursday to clarify that edible forms of marijuana made from extracts are legal.
On a 29-29 tie the House beat back a proposal by Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, to spell out in law that what voters legalized in 2010 for medical use includes not just the dried flowers of the marijuana plant but also any extracts, resins and concentrates. More to the point, he sought to specifically include the words “edible” as a permissible form of marijuana.
Friese, a doctor, pointed out that the 2010 law permits those with certain medical conditions to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. And he noted that the conditions that qualify for medical marijuana include seizures, with doctors allowed to recommend the drug to parents for their children.
“It would be easier for them to get the medication if we allowed the edibles,” he told colleagues.
Friese acknowledged that his proposal comes just days after Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Benjamin Kreutzberg argued to the Arizona Supreme Court that voters never intended to legalize anything other than the use of the flowers and leaves. Kreutzberg in essence is asking the justices to rule that all the other forms of marijuana now available through state-licensed dispensaries – including the candies, liquids and oils – can no longer be sold in the state.
Friese’s proposal, had it been enacted, would have made whatever the high court decides legally moot. But he was unapologetic for asking the Legislature to weigh in.
“I’m trying to propose to this body that we make our own decision,” he said.
Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, argued that would be the wrong decision.
She said that in Colorado, where marijuana in multiple forms is legally available to adults, children have overdosed.
“What is happening is the children are seeing this as gummy bears, Skittles,” Cobb said. “Some of those edibles look like a regular candy and so the kids are eating them.”
And Cobb said there’s another problem with edible forms of marijuana.
When someone smokes it, there’s an immediate effect. That’s not so with edible forms which have to be absorbed into the blood through the digestive tract.
“So some people take it and then take another one because after the first response they don’t get a response,” she said. “And then they’re starting to overdose on those also.”
But Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said legislative action is necessary – and soon.
“People are buying these marijuana derivatives, the concentrates and the edibles legally, and paying taxes, but in certain counties in Arizona they’re being arrested for these things that they bought legally,” she said.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, had her own objections.
She pointed out that possession and sale of marijuana remains a felony under federal law. And Townsend argued that state lawmakers cannot enact anything that is contrary.
But Arizona courts have to date rejected similar arguments of federal preemption by prosecutors who have sought to set aside the 2010 initiative legalizing medical marijuana.
The GOP opposition was not solid, with Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, breaking ranks to support the Friese proposal to spell out that extracts and edibles are as legal for patients as leaves and flowers.
“Those items in his amendment should be part of the definition of marijuana,” he said after the vote.
Campbell’s vote came despite the fact that it is his county attorney and fellow Republican Sheila Polk who has been leading the charge to take edible forms of the drug off the shelves.
“Look, I don’t know about the county attorney,” he said. “All I know is it seemed to me that inclusion of those definitions should have been there.”
The failure of the Friese proposal means the future of edible forms of marijuana rests solely with the Arizona Supreme Court – at least until there is a future ballot proposal to redefine both what is legal and who can use it.