Medical marijuana: Packaging, testing and doctor recommendations could face new rules
Lawmakers at the Arizona Legislature introduced 21 bills related to marijuana this year, but just three are still moving through the Capitol. The bills would stop dispensaries from selling products deemed "attractive to children," punish physicians who give a false recommendation for medical marijuana, and require create quality-assurance testing for products.
Here's a breakdown of each proposal:
1. Marijuana packaging that appeals to children
Non-profit medical-marijuana dispensaries could face prohibitions on products deemed "attractive to children." That includes packaging with a cartoon, a brand or name that resembles a product unrelated to marijuana; an image of a minor; and any symbol or celebrity that is typically marketed to minors. It remains unclear what penalties dispensaries would face for continuing to sell such products and enforcement would need to be further defined, if the measure passes. The Department of Health Services has a limited enforcement system, having the power only to revoke a dispensary's license, which has rarely if ever occurred.
House Bill 2064 sponsor Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said the measure would help prevent children from unknowingly eating marijuana edibles. "I've seen ads where it looks like gummy bears, gummy worms, where it looks like fresh fruit and I defy anybody to be able to tell the difference," Leach said in a House committee hearing in February. But critics of the bill, like Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said it is an "overregulation of small businesses," and that Arizona businesses make a majority of these products.
Powers Hannley also called the bill's language "way too vague" and said it is hard to determine what characteristics of a package can be considered marketable or attractive to children."Is this package marketing to children?" Powers Hannley asked on the House floor in early March, holding up a package of Bark Thins. "It's an attractive package. It doesn't include a cartoon, but it does include words that would be attractive to a child, such as, 'chocolate.' Is this type of a package illegal under this bill?" Despite some opposition, the bill passed the House and awaits a vote in the Senate. It also adds "opioid use disorder" to the list of debilitating conditions that make one eligible for a medical marijuana card, joining the list of conditions that includes chronic pain, seizures and muscle spasms.
Bill status: Awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
2. Illegitimate medical marijuana recommendations
Under another proposal, licensed medical professionals who knowingly make false recommendations for medical marijuana would be committing "unprofessional conduct" and face a suspension or revocation of their medical license. Leach introduced House Bill 2067. The measure targets medical practices that specialize in referring patients but that don't follow guidelines of checking a patients' previous year of medical records. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk spoke in favor of the bill in a February House Health Committee hearing, and said the "gatekeepers" of these cards — the physicians — must be held to the same standards as others.
"I look at the opioid crisis that's going on right now, doctors are not to blame for the opioid crisis, but clearly they are gatekeepers in terms of prescribing and in a few situations overprescribing," Polk said. "That's exactly what we have going on here with just a handful of physicians who are responsible for a majority of these cards and there are no consequences from failing to adhere to the statute."
Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, who is a doctor, criticized a proposal to penalize licensed medical professionals who knowingly make false recommendations for medical marijuana. The Arizona Medical Board and other boards already can determine that a doctor engaged in unprofessional conduct for giving a recommendation for anything other than a defined debilitating condition.
Bill status: Awaiting House action on Senate amendments.
3. Medical marijuana testing
Medical marijuana dispensaries would be required to submit their products for quality-assurance testing by the Agriculture Department and the Department of Health Services under the third proposal. Senate Bill 1420 makes medical marijuana an agricultural commodity subject to the same standards as other crops — including testing for mold, disclosing chemicals used in production and confirming labels.
State Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he introduced the bill to give the state oversight to ensure quality and user safety. This bill would allow the agriculture department to collect data during cultivation and present that data to patients, while the health department could test random samples of marijuana. Borrelli said the bill aims to protect the health of medical marijuana patients, shielding them from products that contain mold or other pathogens and chemicals not yet monitored, like Eagle 20 — a potentially dangerous pesticide banned in tobacco growing. Although pesticides cannot be banned on the state level, Borelli said the bill would require a list of ingredients so patients know exactly what they are consuming.
"If you have a friend of yours or relative that's a cancer patient and they go and get a medical marijuana card, they could be taking their medicine thinking that it's helping them when in fact it's making their cancer worse," Borrelli said. SB 1420 also appropriates $2 million from the medical marijuana fund to the Agriculture Department for regulating marijuana as an agriculture commodity. The bill has bipartisan support from a majority of the Legislature.
Bill status: Awaits a vote from the House Rules Committee and a floor vote.
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