Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, wants to force medical-marijuana dispensaries to label edible drugs, such as cookies, brownies and lollipops, to make it clear they are only for medicinal purposes. Packaging could look similar to the U.S. surgeon general’s warning labels on cigarettes.
She also wants to give police the power to dispose of any drugs seized during criminal investigations once inquiries are completed, instead of being required to take care of plants or drugs in case courts order them returned to a patient.
Yee plans to introduce the bills today. Each bill would require a three-fourths majority vote by the Legislature because it would amend the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, a voter-approved law.
Yee said she believes both bills advance the intent of the marijuana law, a requirement under the Voter Protection Act to alter a law approved by voters. She said she has support of both Republicans and Democrats.
But Yee almost certainly will not have the support of medical-marijuana advocates, who already are gearing up to fight an effort to repeal the 2010 law.
Yee said law-enforcement agencies around the state want clarification of how to handle seized or forfeited medical-marijuana plants and products. Typically, marijuana is stored during an investigation and ultimately destroyed after the inquiry. Plants, for example, are stored but not cared for.
Arizona’s legalization of marijuana for medical purposes has created dilemmas for law-enforcement officers who want to avoid violating the federal Controlled Substances Act, which makes possession, sale or use of marijuana a crime.
The question, in these instances, Yee said, is: “Do they (police) hold onto it? If they do, it creates a problem with respect to them holding something that is a federally banned substance.”
A recent legal battle in Yuma County underscored the dilemma when the sheriff argued he could not return medical marijuana to a California patient because doing so may violate federal law. The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office must give back marijuana seized from a California woman who had permission to use the drug for medical purposes.
Yee said the edible-marijuana bill is geared toward consumer protection. Under the proposal, the Arizona Department of Health Services, which oversees the medical-marijuana program, would be required to immediately revoke the registration certificate of dispensaries that package or advertise the drug in a way that states, suggests or implies it’s for a use other than medicinal purposes allowed under the law.
“We are finding the products being produced that contain marijuana appear to be geared toward the youngest consumer — we’re talking about lollipops, chocolate bars and things that appeal to a minor,” Yee said. “And it is something the parents and consumer should clearly be aware of before purchasing that product.”
Such labeling is not currently required, although edible packaging is supposed to identify the amount of marijuana in the product.
ADHS Director Will Humble said no dispensaries are making edible medical-marijuana products yet. Dispensaries would have to obtain a food establishment license from state health officials and would have to remain in good standing in order to be in compliance.
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who has aggressively battled sales of methamphetamine and “bath salts” in her county, is among law-enforcement officers who support Yee’s legislation.
Polk said it is impractical to require police — who are sworn to enforce state law and can be authorized to enforce federal law — to return marijuana to patients since the drug is federally illegal. Other complications can arise, she said: whether plants must be returned in the same condition they were in when seized, for example.
“If law enforcement goes in, and there’s 14 plants, and they pull out the plants… and the expectation is that they have to be returned, what’s law enforcement to do?” Polk asked. “Plant the plants, water them and continue to cultivate them? The idea that law enforcement would be cultivating marijuana is an outrageous idea.”
Since Arizona voters approved the medical-marijuana law in 2010, nearly 34,000 Arizonans have been approved to smoke or grow marijuana. Of them, the overwhelming majority cite severe and chronic pain as a debilitating medical condition.
Yee’s legislation comes weeks after Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, filed a bill that would refer the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act back to the ballot in November 2014. House Concurrent Resolution 2003 would require the Legislature’s approval but not Gov. Jan Brewer’s signature.
The medical-marijuana industry has come out strongly against his legislation, saying he is attempting to undo the will of voters. And one attorney said the requirement of labeling in Yee’s bill could violate free-speech rights.
Doug Banfelder, board member of the Arizona Wellness Chamber of Commerce, said the language in the edible-marijuana bill is “overly broad” and too subjective.
“We’re not opposed to working with legislators … so we could address their concerns and come up with language that allows people to market their products but does not subject them to varied interpretations.”
Banfelder said he also is concerned about law enforcement destroying seized medical marijuana.
Basil Pebble Arizona Weekly Weeder