An update to Arizona’s medical marijuana law puts patients first by lowering costs and implementing quality controls.
Last Friday, Arizona’s medical marijuana patients scored a victory when Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill into law that would effectively make cannabis in the state cheaper to access and free of harmful chemicals and byproducts.
The bill, known as SB 1494, was the first substantial change to the 2010 voter-led initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).
Arizona will now join other American states in requiring independent, 3rd party lab testing of all cannabis products for potency and to ensure they are free from contaminants like mold, fungus, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, artificial growth regulators, and residual chemical solvents.
The bill aims at both quality control and transparency: labs will be required to have national or international accreditation as well as certification from the Arizona Department of Health Services. Dispensaries will be required to produce lab results immediately upon request from a client.
The new law also stipulates that the Department of Health must set up a Medical Marijuana Testing Advisory Council comprised of various industry stakeholders, including cultivators, extract manufacturers, producers of edibles, patients, law enforcement, and others. Because of this collaborative and thorough approach, it’s possible that Arizona’s new model could be groundbreaking and serve as a template for other states seeking to implement standards in this largely Wild West environment.
Critically, the second part of the bill lowers the cost for patients by making permits cheaper and easier to obtain. As of November 1, 2020, patients will no longer be required to see a doctor annually to renew their prescription, and state-issued cards will only need to be renewed every two years, instead of annually—saving patients a $150 fee plus the cost of a doctor visit each year.
A Slow Evolution
By recent estimates, there are some 197,000 qualifying medical marijuana patients in Arizona. It’s fair to assume that the $150 annual fee from thousands of residents was fattening the state’s coffers at the expense of many who could probably not afford it. Indeed, former Health Department head Will Humble in 2017 admitted to local news outlets that the fee had been set too high.
But because Arizona’s medical marijuana law is frighteningly difficult to change, needed reforms were years in the making. Arizona voters actually approved a measure to legalize medical marijuana back in 1997 that was swiftly overturned in the legislature. As a result, voters shortly thereafter passed new legislation that required substantial agreement in order to change any law that was passed by voter initiative. Basically—they were trying to ensure that the will of the people was never again overrun by the government. Thus, when the voters passed another initiative to legalize in 2010, the resulting AMMA was protected from government detractors.
Because of this protection, at least ¾ of the legislature had to be in consensus in order for any amendments to be made to the AMMA. In these hyper-partisan times, it seems like a miracle of legislative cooperation that this measure was passed with sweeping support from both parties. Truly heartening during these divided days! We are delighted that Arizona’s government is making people-first policies for transparent and accessible medicine.
Onward and upward!
Christina Rock is a Seattle-based writer and photographer who loves a good voter initiative.