Borrelli again targets medical marijuana dispensary kitchens

Dillon Rosenblatt//November 26, 2019

Borrelli again targets medical marijuana dispensary kitchens

Dillon Rosenblatt//November 26, 2019

Deposit Photo
Deposit Photo

A state GOP senator wants to allow the Arizona Department of Health Services to inspect medical marijuana kitchens without giving notice and blames the marijuana industry for killing the same effort last session.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, introduced his first bill of the 2020 legislative session hoping to address concerns over how marijuana edibles are created in those kitchens. Last session, he enlisted Sen. Paul Boyer to sponsor the bill for him, hoping he would have better luck getting the three-fourths vote needed to amend the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act because it is voter protected. 

Not a single Democrat in the Senate voted for the SB1222 on the floor February 18, and none of the 13 members gave a reason why they refused to support it. 

Borrelli believes it’s because the dispensaries persuaded them to kill the measure.

“They have no clear-cut reason why to vote ‘no’ other than the marijuana industry doesn’t want any oversight whatsoever,” Borrelli said. 

When it passed through committee none of the Democrats said a word, and on the Senate floor only the Senate Minority Whip Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, spoke, but not to provide any inkling as to why she was voting no. Otondo, instead, chose to take issue with Borrelli’s choice of words on whether marijuana does in fact have medicinal value. Borrelli and Boyer were the only other senators to speak at all. Boyer, R-Glendale, said he still doesn’t understand why it did not have the support from the Democrats. 

Otondo could not be reached for comment. 

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, thought his caucus opposed the measure because the bill would give oversight of the inspections to the Department of Agriculture instead of DHS, but Boyer shot that down. 

That was only something discussed as a possibility after the bill failed, he said. 

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

Borrelli is more hopeful his bill that he sponsored himself will make it through since in the interim there was a DHS audit pointing to problems the department has had when it comes to witnessing the creation of marijuana edibles in dispensary kitchens. 

As it stands, dispensaries get advance notice of inspections, and the DHS audit found that kitchens always happened to be closed at the time of inspections. Borrelli’s bill eliminates the advance notice making it so inspections would be random like they are for any other industry.

“[Inspectors] can go into everything from a Burger King to an abortion clinic unannounced – but not a dispensary,” Borrelli said, adding that if any other industry received notice before an inspection it would be ridiculous.

“I’m going to inspect your illegal gambling operation on Thursday at three o’clock, is that OK with you,” Borrelli said. “You’re going to get there and people will just be playing dominoes and chess.”

This is the only business that enjoys that huge benefit, Borrelli said. 

The Smart and Safe Arizona Act, an effort to legalize adult use marijuana on next year’s ballot, also would address Borrelli’s concern over advance notice of inspections. It says DHS should make “at least one unannounced visit annually” to each licensed facility. 

Pele Peacock Fischer, the Arizona Dispensaries Association lobbyist, said the association was going through a transition period between lobbyists when the bill failed so no association lobbyist influenced the Senate Democrats on how to vote.

She said a potential reason why it failed could be because the Legislature wanted to wait to see what happened with the State v. Jones case at the Arizona Supreme Court, which eventually determined on May 28 marijuana concentrates could be used as medicine. 

In the other chamber, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said in July her caucus would happily help get the three-fourths vote necessary to close the loophole, noting that they supported new marijuana testing requirements, and don’t want to put medical marijuana patients’ health at risk as the audit suggested.

If legislation would make it through the House and Senate, Tim Sultan, the Arizona Dispensaries Association executive director, said they would not stand in the way.