Arizona would cut price of medical cannabis cards by $100, make them free for veterans under bill

Ryan Randazzo
Arizona Republic

Cheaper medicinal cannabis cards and adding autism and post-traumatic stress disorder as conditions eligible to receive a card are two of several changes to cannabis rules in Arizona under consideration at the Legislature.

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1466, which passed the House Health and Human Services Committee on Monday after previously clearing the full Senate. That puts the measure just a few votes away from the governor's desk.

The bill has widespread support, even from members of an advisory committee to the state, that the bill would eliminate via one of its provisions.

The major elements of the proposed changes include:

  • Reducing the maximum price the state can charge for a medicinal cannabis card to $50 from $150. The cards are valid for two years. The cost does not include the fees medical professionals charge to recommend the cards to patients.
  • Waiving the card fee entirely for military veterans.
  • Allowing the Department of Health Services to use money collected through the medical cannabis program and recreational cannabis sales interchangeably. Because voters approved medical and recreational cannabis separately there are two funds.
  • Permitting physicians to make medical cannabis recommendations through telehealth appointments.
  • Aligning testing requirements for medical and recreational cannabis.
  • Aligning other portions of the programs, such as prohibiting medical cannabis edibles in the shapes of animals, fruit, toys or cartoons, like the rules for recreational products.
  • Permitting DHS to allocate $10 million annually for cannabis clinical trials, increasing that figure from the current $5 million.
  • Adding autism spectrum disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of medical conditions for which a physician can recommend using medical cannabis.
  • Eliminating the Medical Marijuana Testing Advisory Council, which was created by statute to recommend testing rules to DHS. DHS would instead conduct quarterly meetings where anyone could comment on laboratory testing requirements for cannabis.
Marijuana flower is seen in glass jars on opening day at Mint Dispensary on Cave Creek Road in Phoenix on March 15, 2021. Mint sells both medical and recreational marijuana and products.

Speakers support adding autism to program

Joe DeMenna, a lobbyist who serves on that advisory council, said he likes the bill even though his role as an advisor to DHS will be eliminated. He supports adding new medical conditions for medical cards.

"It's a great issue," DeMenna said, adding that DHS has hesitated in adding new medical conditions to the list.

Two parents spoke at a hearing at the Capitol on Monday in support of adding autism as a qualifying condition. One said she had a child who responded to treatment with cannabis.

Another parent spoke about wanting the opportunity to treat a child with cannabis without fear of criminal prosecution.

DeMenna said there were other positive elements in the bill.

"As far as the vet card fees, they absolutely should be zero," he said.

He said lowering medical card fees is the only way to keep the medical program viable in the state now that recreational cannabis is legal.

Electronic Medical Marijuana Card

Council recommended closing loopholes

The Medical Marijuana Testing Advisory Council last year recommended to DHS changes to prevent cannabis growers and retailers from cheating and sending samples of cannabis to labs that don't actually match the products as required. DHS didn't implement the proposed rules.

The recommendations for new rules sought to close loopholes in the testing regulations to prevent the sale of contaminated cannabis and to improve the accuracy of potency labeling.

Recent investigations by The Arizona Republic have found both contaminated products sold to medical patients and wildly inflated potency claims on cannabis packaging.

But Tabitha Hauer, owner of Desert Valley Testing in Phoenix, who proposed some of the changes as a member of the Medical Marijuana Testing Advisory Council, said she supports the bill, including the provision to eliminate the council.

"I definitely agree with the autism and the reduced card cost," she said. "The council is kind of useless if DHS does not implement anything that's recommended."

Meghan Schenk (Laboratory Agent) weighs the sample of Mohave Cannabis Co. Biscotti Sherbert strain that the Republic brought in for testing, August 29, 2022, at Desert Valley Testing, 51 W. Weldon Ave., Phoenix, Arizona.

She said the council doesn't represent the entire industry.

DeMenna said public forums replacing the council is a good trade off.

"By allowing there to be actual public hearings and get information from public sources, I feel like that will be a much better situation," he said.

The Arizona Dispensaries Association, which represents the big cannabis growers and retailers in the state, strongly supports the bill, and opposes changes proposed by the advisory council.

But not everyone views the dispensaries' support as altruistic.

"It's a real shame the ADA is acting like they care about patients by lowering card costs all while getting rid of the one thing that keeps them honest: testing oversight," said Steve Cottrell, who represents the dispensary industry on the Marijuana Testing Advisory Council.

Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at ryan.randazzo@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.

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