Arizona Slashes Medical Marijuana Card Cost in Half, Requires Testing
June 25, 2019
by Patrick J. Paul
Following the close of one of the longest legislative sessions in recent Arizona history, Governor Doug Ducey had 10 days to act on a bevy of bills – whether to veto, to sign or to let them become law without his signature. On the ninth day, Friday, June 7, 2019, he signed 40 and vetoed four others. Senate Bill 1494, which enjoyed unanimous and likely veto-proof support, was one such successful bill impacting the future of medical marijuana in the state. The unanimous backing was important as revisions to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, approved in 2010 by 50.13% of Arizona voters, requires support by three-fourths of each legislative chamber.
Among the changes headed for the state’s medical marijuana industry are testing requirements designed to weed out impurities and toxins that can contaminate medical marijuana like mold, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, while confirming the potency of dispensed marijuana. Currently, across the nation, 33 states and the District of Columbia allow for some form of medical marijuana use within their respective jurisdictions. Arizona and Rhode Island had been the only states without a requirement for such testing.
Introduced by Republican Senator (and former Speaker of the Arizona House) David Gowan, the bill requires mandatory testing begin by November 1, 2020. The new law imposes licensing fees and standards for third-party labs and directs the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to set marijuana potency standards and remediation protocols if testing identifies a possible concern. In addition, the new law extends the validity of medical cannabis cards from one to two years, effectively cutting the annual cost of such cards in half by only requiring the current $150 application fee every other year. Not surprisingly, additional bureaucracy is on the way in the form of a Medical Marijuana Testing Advisory Council, which will assist ADHS in establishing a testing program and in developing procedural requirements for collecting, storing and testing medical marijuana samples. The Advisory Council is also tasked with ensuring proper reporting of testing to patients and ADHS.
Of course, as with any state or local action on medical (or recreational) marijuana, overarching federal concerns remain. The federal Controlled Substances Act continues to criminalize the manufacture, distribution, dispensation or possession of marijuana, even where state law authorizes its use, and, to date 33 states have legalized some form of marijuana. The current lack of vigorous federal enforcement does not change the law itself or negate the possibility that the enforcement position may change. Meanwhile, states continue to pass legislation impacting the sale and distribution of this still federally criminalized drug.