Pubdate: Mon, 04 Feb 2013
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2013 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez


In a move aimed at preventing children from accidentally eating 
marijuana and the state's police from falling foul of federal drug 
laws, a state lawmaker is proposing two pieces of legislation to 
tighten the state's medical-marijuana program.

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 Phoenix Republican who is proposing bills that 
would tighten Arizona's medical-marijuana program 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 packaging on edible 
products 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.

"What if the accused are acquitted or charges aren't brought - it's 
still their property," he said. "They'd have a right go have it back. 
It's still their property."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom