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Arizonans may get a chance to decide if they want to let farmers here grow an industrial — and not psychoactive — version of marijuana.
PHOENIX (AP) — Proposed draft rules for Arizona's medical marijuana program are out for public comment.
The state Department of Health Services says the draft rules include court-ordered proposed changes on regulations for licensing of dispensaries but also proposed changes in rules involving patients and caregivers.
The proposed changes include reducing fees for several categories of patients, including ones who are 65 or older or under 18 years of age. Other reductions are envisioned for veterans and patients who receive hospice service and some forms of public assistance.
The latest proposed rules change previous drafts released earlier this year. The department says it plans to have the revised rules take effect next summer.
PHOENIX -- Saying the state needs the cash, a first-term Tucson Republican lawmaker wants to legalize marijuana -- and do it before it ends up on the 2016 ballot.
Ethan Orr said he believes a Colorado-style law here could generate upwards of $250 million a year in tax revenues. He said the state, heading into a budget deficit, needs the cash.
But Orr said there's another reason for lawmakers to act: a proposed 2016 ballot measure.
He said if that is passed, it is virtually impossible to make changes if it turns out there are problems. By contrast, Orr said anything approved by the Legislature can be amended by the Legislature.
The proposal drew a sharp rebuke from Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, who is also running in the same legislative district. She said the timing -- a month before the general election -- is suspicious as she, Orr and Democrat Randy Friese face off for the two available seats.
But this isn't Orr's first foray into the issue of marijuana.
Last session he sponsored legislation designed to allow the use of state dollars, obtained from medical marijuana users and dispensaries, to study the effects of the drug. That measure was approved by the House but killed in the Senate.
Timing aside, Steele said that, as a substance abuse counselor, she cannot support anything that has the possibility of making marijuana more easily available to teens, even if the law were designed to limit its purchase to adults.
The proposal is getting a decidedly chilly reception from Republican gubernatorial hopeful Doug Ducey who would be in a position to sign or veto the bill if it ever got to his desk.
"As the father of three boys and the son of a cop, he thinks it's a bad idea,'' said spokeswoman Melissa DeLaney.
But Democrat Fred DuVal appears open to the idea -- but just not yet.
"Fred wants to wait and see what happens with the states that already moved to legalize recreational marijuana,'' said Geoff Vetter, his press aide. "There's a lot of things we're still learning and Fred wants to discover all the consequences of legalization before moving in that direction.''
But the Marijuana Policy Project, which got voters in 2010 to approve a medical marijuana law, is not about to drop its plans for 2016.
Chris Lindsey, the group's legislative analyst, said Orr's proposal is "not surprising'' given what he said has been the success of legalization in Colorado.
"We applaud Rep. Orr for taking a stand for a more sensible law,'' Lindsey said. But simply introducing a bill is far from a guarantee of getting a hearing, much less the measure making its way onto the books.
"For the time being, while we wish the representative and his legislation every success, our plans to place a measure before voters in 2016 has not changed,'' Lindsey said.
Orr's plan is a direct extension of that 2010 initiative when voters decided that those with certain medical conditions and a doctor's recommendation could purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from state-regulated dispensaries.
Since that time the state's finances have deteriorated.
The current projection is Arizona will end this budget year $520 million in the red if lawmakers have to reset state aid to schools to where it would have been had they not ignored for several years a requirement to consider inflation. And for the coming year the deficit is projected to exceed $1 billion.
Orr said the experience in Colorado shows legalization can work.
"All of the apocalyptic predictions made have not come true,'' he said.
"You have not seen an increase in the hardcore drug usage of things like heroin and cocaine,'' Orr said, or any increase in arrests for disorderly conduct. "But what you have seen is an increase in tax revenue.''
Potentially more significant, Orr said, is the chance that the 2016 initiative might pass.
He said this means Arizona law will be crafted not after careful consideration and debate by lawmakers but instead go to voters as a take-it-or-leave-it plan. Worse yet, Orr said, is the Arizona Constitution precludes virtually any change by lawmakers in voter-approved measures even if problems develop.
"This is going to happen,'' he said.
"Is it going to happen in an intelligent way because my colleagues chose to act like leaders and do what was right for the state?'' Orr continued. "I guess another way of putting it (is), are we going to govern or are we going to be governed by the initiative process?''
"I don't think we should have it either way,'' responded Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall. "We don't need another highly addictive substance available to adults or adolescents.''
LaWall acknowledged that what Orr is proposing would be only for adults. But she said its greater availability will make it more accessible to teens.
"Research shows it has a devastating and damaging impact on developing brains and can lead to life-long addiction,'' she said. "Among other risks, marijuana impairs thinking, leads to poor educational outcomes and lowered IQ, and increases a teen's likelihood of dropping out of school.''
And LaWall said even assuming marijuana sales could be limited to adults, legalization sends the message that it's use is somehow OK.
Steele said Colorado residents are having second thoughts. In a poll last month by Suffolk University and USA today, about half of residents surveyed said they are not happy with the law and how it is being implemented.
"And in Colorado, we're seeing since this has happened, that the use of marijuana among teenagers is 39 percent higher than the national average,'' Steele said.
But another report raises the question of whether any of this is related to the 2012 law.
A report released by Healthy Kids Colorado found that in 2013, the first full year the drug was legal for adults, 20 percent of high schoolers admitted using marijuana in the prior month and 37 percent said they had used it at some point in their lives.
By contrast, the 2011 survey found 22 percent who admitted to use in the prior month and 39 percent to sampling it.
But along the lines of LaWall's concern of acceptance, the same survey said the percentage of students who perceive a moderate or great risk from marijuana use declined from 58 percent in 2011 to 54 percent two years later.
Steele said her concern is for those children.
"I do think that adults have the right to make that decision,'' she said.
"But I'm a substance abuse counselor,'' Steele continued. "And I have dealt with so many people who started their drug and alcohol addiction in their teenage years, starting at 11 and 12.''
Orr said he has never used marijuana. And he agrees that, at least for teens, the drug should remain off limits for recreational use.
"In high school I saw it fundamentally destroyed some of my friends' lives,'' Orr said, who started with marijuana and, having decided that illegal drug use is OK, moved on to other substances.
This isn't the first foray by lawmakers into the area of legalizing -- or at least decriminalizing -- marijuana for recreational use.
John Fillmore, then a Republican representative from Apache Junction, tried in 2011 to make possession of up to two ounces a fine of no more than $200. When that failed, he tried a scaled-back measure the following year, with a $500 fine for possession of up to an ounce.
That also failed.
Just this past session Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, tried total legalization and recreation but could not get a hearing for his measure.
PHOENIX -- Arizona's chief health officer is proposing to make it more difficult to add new conditions to the list for which doctors can recommend the drug.
The change would require "clear and convincing evidence'' published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, that there is some benefit from the use of marijuana to humans for the specified medical condition. State Health Director Will Humble said that probably means multiple articles.
That's a big change from the current regulations which allow consideration of "a summary of the evidence'' that marijuana will either help treat the condition or at least provide some relief from symptoms. And while the current rules also ask for articles in scientific journals, there is no mandate that the research be "evidence based'' -- or that the conclusions be clear and convincing.
Humble's proposal comes months after he effectively was required, against his own judgment, to allow doctors to make medical marijuana available for post-traumatic stress disorder.
He originally had rejected the application as being based largely on anecdotal evidence. But Humble reversed himself when a state hearing officer pointed out that his agency's own rules specifically require him to consider such evidence.
And Humble said had his proposed rules been in effect at the time, he never would have made marijuana available for PTSD.
The move drew opposition from Jeffrey Kaufman, an attorney whose practice includes representing marijuana dispensaries.
"The governments have constructed a complex and impossible program and maze for anyone to get medical marijuana studies funding,'' he said. "So, obviously, it's going to be impossible for anybody to have any type of peer-reviewed literature or studies.''
That's also the assessment of attorney Ken Sobel who brought the legal challenge that resulted in Humble adding PTSD to the list. And he said a lawsuit is likely if Humble goes ahead with the change.
"It would be really in violation of the voters' intent,'' Sobel said, saying wanted an easy method of adding conditions because of the legal roadblocks to scientific research.
But Humble is defending the new restriction.
"I want everything we do to be based on evidence and data,'' he said.
The 2010 The voter-approved law allows the use of the drug by patients suffering from a list of specific medical conditions, ranging from glaucoma and AIDS to any chronic or debilitating condition that leads to severe and chronic plan. At last count, close to 53,000 people have qualified under that existing list, allowing them to purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
That 2010 law, however, also requires Humble to consider requests to expand the list of conditions for which marijuana can be legally recommended by a doctor.
Humble had rejected repeated efforts to add PTSD to the list, saying there was a lack of scientific studies.
But in June, a hearing officer said the agency's own rules require Humble to consider the anecdotal testimony of doctors and nurses who said the drug has helped their patients. And Humble backed down after proponents, in what he called "a stroke of luck,'' also came up with a study out of New Meixco that found what he said was "an association between cannabis used and PTSD symptoms in some patients.''
Still, Humble said all that probably would not meet the new standards.
"The rules that we're proposing today make it really clear that it needs to be not just published data but published data that's convincing,'' he said. "And not just one, unless it's a really, really good study.''
He said the single study on PTSD that was presented to him did not meet the standard for "clear and convincing evidence.'' In fact, the study says that further research is necessary.
Gov. Jan Brewer says terminally ill patients should have the right to use drugs which have not yet been approved — and may never be approved — by federal agencies.
State health officials are facing a new legal challenge over a provision in the voter-approved Medical Marijuana Act that bars those who live within 25 miles of a dispensary from growing their own plants.
Medical marijuana users have no right to grow their own plants once a dispensary moves within 25 miles as the crow flies, a state hearing officers concluded Tuesday. But some rural residents may get to start cultivating again next year.
Backers of a would-be medical marijuana researcher are now planning to pressure the Board of Regents to intercede after the University of Arizona will not rehire her.
A Pima County Superior Court judge may have paved the way for the state's more than 52,000 medical marijuana users to get into business of selling the drug, at least to each other.
A University of Arizona doctor who was pushing for more research into medical marijuana is being let go — she believes for political reasons.
The state's top health official is weighing new regulations to ensure that users of medical marijuana snacks and drinks know when to stop.
The Mesa City Council on Monday voted against a request to rezone a parcel of land at 6350 E. Main St., just east of Recker Road, which would have allowed a medicinal marijuana dispensary to open there.
FILE - This Nov. 7, 2012 file photo shows a medical marijuana plant at a dispensary in Seattle. Tied to an unpopular president and his signature health care law, Democrats in the nation’s largest swing-state see the prospect of legal medical marijuana as a rare source of hope and high voter turnout in this year’s midterm elections. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Supporters of medical marijuana research have targeted a Republican state senator for recall because she is blocking a measure that could fund it. But the measure could be more public relations than actual political power.
A Phoenix Republican lawmaker is using her power to single-handedly kill a House-passed bill that could provide the necessary funds to finally have a study of possible beneficial effects of medical marijuana.
Legal marijuana users would help fund programs designed to prevent others from trying the drug under the terms of legislation given preliminary Senate approval Wednesday.
Three people are in custody after police busted an illegal marijuana dispensary Tuesday in Tempe, according to officials.
Nearby store owners had been complaining for the past few weeks about an odor and possible illegal activity in the store, officials say.
State lawmakers hope to use fees paid by medical marijuana users and dispensaries to convince everyone else not to inhale.
State lawmakers want to force voters to reapprove, over and over again, perhaps dozens of measures they previously enacted.
Attorneys representing medical marijuana dealers are hoping new “guidance” Friday by federal officials paves the way for their clients to finally have bank accounts.
Arizona's more than 43,000 medical marijuana patients smoked, ate or otherwise consumed close to three tons of the weed last year.
Everyone has done a list of the Top 10 events of the past year.
PHOENIX — Maricopa County's chief prosecutor is asking a judge to throw out a bid by the parents of a 5-year-old Mesa boy who suffers from seizures to be able to get an extract of marijuana from dispensaries.
PHOENIX — Medical marijuana users have no constitutional right to grow their own drug, a trial judge has ruled.