Arizona lawmaker retracts proposed medical marijuana bill
Located on 221 E. 6th Street, The Downtown Dispensary is one of Tucson's primary retailers of medical marijuana. Last week, Rep. Jay Lawrence decided to pull a bill that would restrict the ability to obtain a medical marijuana card.
Earlier this month, Arizona Rep. Jay Lawrence of the 23rd District introduced HCR 2019, a bill that would make obtaining a medical marijuana card more difficult for medical marijuana users in Arizona. The bill has been withdrawn since Lawrence's proposal.
“It will never be heard by a committee,” Lawrence said. “It will never see the light of day.”
HCR 2019 proposed two issues that posed a major threat to cardholders, including price increases and card renewals.
The bill required qualifying patients to renew their registry identification card every six months rather than the original requirement of once a year. Further, the bill would have taken away the rights of naturopathic and homeopathic physicians to prescribe medical marijuana as a useable medicine, according to the bill transcript.
Lawrence’s decision to hold the bill was in response to the number of phone calls he received about the initial proposal. The decision to hold the bill was finalized Jan. 21.
“The information, the anecdotal information, I received was the reason for the bill,” Lawrence said. “The anecdotal information led me to believe that prescriptions were just being handed out, and that anyone could get one, that there were no checking — we were just a small California.”
Lawrence soon found that prescribing physicians were following regulations. They also look at patients' backgrounds and medical histories before issuing the prescriptions.
“Having learned this, I said 'I am way off base,'” Lawrence said. “You can’t drop the bill, you just call the committee chairs and tell them ‘don’t hear the bill’ and it’s gone.”
J.P. Holyoak, president of the Arizona Dispensary Association, released a statement regarding the bill.
“It’s disappointing to see some legislators are trying to roll back a voter-approved law that is helping tens of thousands of seriously ill Arizonans," Holyoak said. "We have some questions about whether their proposal is legal, but we have little doubt it is unnecessary and counterproductive. Arizona is successfully regulating the sale of marijuana for medical use, and it should be expanding upon that progress. Our state should focus on moving forward, not backward."
Carlos Alfaro, Arizona political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said Holyoak was on the forefront of fighting the bill and helped in eventually getting it pulled.
The MPP focuses mainly on the adult use of marijuana and working toward a regulation process similar to that of alcohol consumption. Alfaro said marijuana is subjectively less harmful than alcohol.
“Obviously any effort to restrict access to people, especially medical patients, in an already voter approved law is obviously not well advised,” Alfaro said. “It is something that is putting us backwards, and thankfully Jay Lawrence got wind of that when he got thousands of phone calls telling him and explaining to him that the medical program needs to continue the way it is because it has been successful.”
The project is a few thousand signatures away from the needed 150,000 to get the legalization of marijuana in Arizona on the November voting ballot, according to Alfaro.
“Our medical marijuana program has worked well to bring jobs and medicine to patients who need it, and has obviously proved that millions of dollars will come in once we legalize it,” Alfaro said.
Colorado alone made over $70 million in tax revenue within the last fiscal year from medicinal marijuana sales.
“Legalizing marijuana would bring millions of dollars in tax revenue, but also would bring billions of dollars in sales — in legal marijuana sales — because it will bring an underground market into the legal realm,” Alfaro said. “So now we have legitimate licensed businesses and not drug cartels and drug dealers benefiting from this in our communities.”
Lawrence said he is not introducing anything that will deal with medical marijuana.
“I told any committee that was scheduled to hear the bill to hold the bill forever,” Lawrence said.
Follow Devon Walo on Twitter.