Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jan 2013
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2013 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez
Page: B1


They want focus on unregulated clubs

Dispensary owners, patients and advocates of medical marijuana are 
urging state lawmakers to rethink their attempts to repeal the 2010 
law that legalized the drug to treat certain medical conditions.

Instead of revisiting the question of whether medical marijuana 
should be available in Arizona amid concerns the system is open to 
abuse, and sending the issue back to voters, they asked the 
Legislature on Thursday to spend their energy on clamping down on 
unregulated marijuana clubs to ensure patients receive their 
recommended drugs within the guidelines of the law.

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, passed by voters in 2010, makes no 
provision for private medical-marijuana clubs. And they are not 
regulated by the Department of Health Services, which oversees the 
medical-marijuana program and regulates dispensaries where patients 
and caregivers can legally buy marijuana.

Marijuana clubs - often called "compassion clubs" - typically ask 
patients to pay a fee to obtain marijuana even though the law does 
not allow people to exchange anything of value for the drug except in 

The clubs sprang up statewide as patients tired of waiting for the 
opening of dispensaries, which were delayed because of prolonged 
legal battles between medical marijuana advocates and state and 
county officials. Police have raided at least two clubs, and the 
Maricopa County Attorney's Office prosecuted the operators under 
existing drug laws.

Ryan Hurley, an attorney specializing in medical-marijuana law, said 
the law should not be repealed, but that police, prosecutors and 
lawmakers should target the unregulated clubs to ensure patients 
receive their medication in a controlled and secure environment.

"If there are abuses in the system, that's where they can be 
addressed, with law enforcement, the Department of Health Services, 
(and) we're happy to work with the Arizona Legislature to regulate 
and to reform, where needed," he said.

Medical-marijuana advocates say lawmakers who want to repeal the law 
either don't understand how the drug helps patients or they are 
putting their politics before the will of voters.

Jim Dyer, a Republican and former attorney, said during a Thursday 
news conference that conventional painkillers and muscle relaxants 
aren't an effective treatment for his multiple sclerosis because they 
put him to sleep or further affect his muscles. Medical marijuana, he 
said, is the only remedy.

"I don't understand why the Legislature wants to get in the face of 
the voters again and tell them, 'Oh hey, we want you to vote on this 
again,' " he said. "That's insulting to me, and it should be 
insulting to the rest of the voters in Arizona."

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, has introduced a bill that 
would refer the marijuana law back to the ballot in November2014. 
House Concurrent Resolution 2003 would require the Legislature's 
approval but not Gov. Jan Brewer's signature.

Kavanagh said voters deserve the right to rethink whether the law 
should have passed in the first place, pointing out that voters 
approved it by a narrow margin of about 4,300 votes.

He said the program is seriously flawed, citing recent findings that 
only a portion of the state's physicians are recommending marijuana, 
that some teens report they are obtaining pot from medical-marijuana 
cardholders, and that most patients are citing chronic pain as 
debilitating conditions - not cancer, as he says voters were led to believe.

Kavanagh questioned the effectiveness of marijuana in treating 
medical conditions and cited a decision by a three member panel of 
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which 
rejected a petition to reclassify marijuana from its status as a 
dangerous drug with no accepted medical use.

"There are so many yellow flags that say this program is full of 
abuse . that the voters should be allowed to reconsider," he said. 
"Everybody's heart has to go out to people who have debilitating and 
painful illnesses, and mine does also. But these people have to be 
protected from ineffective and dangerous drugs."

About 34,000 Arizonans are allowed to smoke or grow marijuana, 
according to the state Department of Health Services. About 4 percent 
use marijuana to ease cancer symptoms; less than 2 percent cite 
glaucoma. The overwhelming majority, 90 percent, cite severe and 
chronic pain. State health officials will begin accepting petitions 
today to consider allowing new medical conditions into the program.

Marijuana advocates also renewed suggestions that state officials tax 
marijuana sales or enact a "transaction fee." They estimated that a 
uniform tax policy could generate $40 million in new state revenue. A 
2011 opinion by the Attorney General's Office said the proceeds of 
medical-marijuana sales are taxable under the retail classification 
of the transaction-privilege tax, commonly known as the sales tax.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom