Pubdate: Fri, 15 Jan 2016
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2016 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez


Legalization Nears Ballot; Bills Target Medical Use

As a marijuana-legalization campaign nears its goal of gathering 
150,000 valid signatures to get on the statewide November ballot, two 
Arizona lawmakers are proposing bills that would place limits on its 
medical use.

Republican Rep. Jay Lawrence of Scottsdale is seeking to restrict 
access to medical marijuana with a bill that would ban naturopaths 
and homeopaths from writing prescriptions for the drug, require 
patients to renew cards every six months and punish those cardholders 
who sell or give the drug to kids. If approved, it would be referred 
to the November general election ballot.

A second bill, proposed by Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, would exclude 
pregnant women from the medical marijuana program "regardless of her 
diagnosis as having a debilitating medical condition."

The two bills are being proposed at the same time an initiative to 
legalize recreational use of marijuana appears headed for that same 
November ballot.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is a few thousand 
signatures short of gathering the 150,642 signatures needed to 
qualify for the ballot, spokesman Barrett Marson said Wednesday. 
However, some of those signatures are likely invalid - gathered from 
people who cannot vote - and the group aims to collect 225,000 signatures.

"Arizonans are clearly excited about this initiative," Marson added.

Since medical marijuana was approved by voters in 2010, however, 
Republican lawmakers have sought to limit access. It's unclear how 
the new attempts will play with the GOP-controlled Legislature and 
Gov. Doug Ducey, who opposes legalizing the drug. Changes to the law 
would require approval by three-fourths of the Legislature and must 
further the intent of the law.

Lawrence's HCR 2019 is notable because naturopaths and homeopaths 
account for an overwhelming majority of the authorized use of medical 
marijuana, according to state data.

Nearly 88,000 Arizonans held medical-marijuana cards in December, and 
the number has been steadily rising since Arizonans approved the 
program in 2010. The law allows people with certain debilitating 
medical conditions - such as severe nausea, chronic pain and cancer - 
to use cannabis. Patients must obtain recommendations from a 
physician and register with the state.

Program rules require physicians to perform a physical exam, a review 
of a year's worth of medical records and a review of a state database 
that tracks prescription-drug use. Physicians are not required to ask 
if patients are pregnant.

Lawrence said his legislation is aimed at protecting youths while 
cracking down on physicians who may be improperly recommending 
cannabis. He is confident his colleagues "see the same threat to 
society that I see."

Lawrence, who supported medical marijuana years ago, said he now sees 
it as a detriment to public safety.

Lawrence also questions whether physicians are recommending marijuana 
for truly medicinal purposes and points to the state data on 
naturopaths' large share of recommendations.

The state Department of Health Services, which oversees the program, 
said physicians gave 77,639 certifications for medical marijuana in 
2015. All but 10,031 were written by naturopaths, according to 
preliminary data.

In the past, the state's former health director, Will Humble, said 
the large number of recommendations by naturopaths raises concerns 
that patients are seeking recommendations from "certification mills" 
instead of primary-care doctors, who may be more well-versed in 
patients' medical histories.

He said the program was billed as a way to help veterans and the 
elderly but has been exploited. He wants to go after those who abuse 
it - namely those who give or sell medical marijuana to kids.

But Ryan Hurley, an attorney who specializes in marijuana law, said 
Lawrence's bill does not "further the purpose" of the marijuana law, 
and, therefore, is fatally flawed.

"Hopefully it should be dead on arrival, but we'll see," Hurley said, 
adding that lawmakers should not try to limit the types of physicians 
who can prescribe marijuana.

"There are a great number of MDs that are afraid to prescribe medical 
marijuana - even if they're OK with the actual use of it," he said. 
"They refer people to naturopaths to get their cards. It's a natural 
approach - it's not outside the realm of reason that a naturopath 
would be more inclined to recognize the natural benefits" of 
marijuana, he said.

Under Townsend's bill, meanwhile, pregnant women would not be 
eligible to join the medical-marijuana program.

In an emailed statement, she wrote, "(T)he harmful effects of this 
drug on the fetus is undeniable and empirically substantiated and 
therefore does not find a place in the effective medical management 
of a pregnancy." She said exposing a fetus to drugs could be 
concluded as neglect, "and therefore a woman risks losing her child 
to DCS should she or the child test positive at birth."

In 2012, members of the Arizona chapter of the American Academy of 
Pediatrics said they wanted to stop pregnant women from using 
marijuana obtained through the program and pointed to one incident in 
which a mother in labor told hospital officials she had received a 
medical-marijuana card during pregnancy and had been using the drug. 
The pediatricians believe marijuana is harmful to the fetus.

Hurley, the attorney, speculated there may be a greater push by GOP 
lawmakers to support the new legislation, but he questioned the 
extent of use of the drug by pregnant women. He added if pregnant 
women are intent on using marijuana for non-medicinal purposes, "it's 
not like they have a hard time finding it."

He cautioned lawmakers against interfering with the relationship 
between patients and doctors.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom