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Legislation takes on medical marijuana labeling, cultivation in Arizona

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PHOENIX – For Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, some edible medical marijuana products are too easy to mistake for candy and should be labeled clearly by law.

Along with a group of rural lawmakers, Yee also says counties need more leeway under state law to regulate where medical marijuana may be cultivated.

Those are among several bills this legislative session addressing how the medical marijuana system Arizona voters approved in 2010 should work.

Yee authored four of the measures.

“I’ve sponsored medical marijuana bills for the past two years,” she said. “It’s the Legislature’s role in implementing new laws to find the loopholes that affect public safety.”

With SB 1440, Yee seeks to require the Arizona Department of Health Services to revoke a dispensary’s certification if it mislabels its products or services as being for anything other than medicinal use.

Sharing photos of candy bars, lollipops and other food items that she said could be mistaken for something other than medical marijuana, especially by children, Yee said the products should be labeled clearly.

“These could be on someone’s kitchen table and anyone could pick it up and ingest it not knowing it contains marijuana,” she said.

The Senate endorsed the bill, forwarding it to the House.

SB 1098, authored by Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, addresses a provision of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act that allows cardholders living more than 25 miles away from a dispensary to grow 12 plants in an enclosed, locked area.

Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, a primary sponsor of the bill, said that raises the possibility that cardholders in rural areas could grow medical marijuana as a group.

“We’ll end up with literally acres of marijuana being grown in a co-op,” she said.

The bill, which has won Senate approval and an endorsement from the House Agriculture and Water Committee, would exempt marijuana cultivation from the general agricultural uses of land that county zoning ordinances can’t restrict under state law.

One medical marijuana proposal going nowhere this session is HCR 2003, in which Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, sought another statewide vote on whether to have medical marijuana in Arizona. The measure wasn’t taken up in committee.

Among the other bills that are advancing, Yee’s SB 1441 would allow law enforcement agencies to dispose of medical marijuana seized during criminal investigations.

She said law enforcement faces a dilemma in returning seized medical marijuana because it’s a federally banned substance.

“If it’s seized, the police don’t maintain the plant during the investigation,” Yee said. “If the plant is returned, it’s not in the same condition as before and loses the value.”

That bill won Senate approval and was awaiting action in the House.

Yee’s SB 1443 would allow medical marijuana research on college and university campuses. It won Senate approval and was awaiting action in the House.

Yee said marijuana is banned on university campuses, but some, like the University of Arizona, receive funding for research on medical marijuana.

Sara Presler, executive director of the Maricopa County Medical Society, told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that the research would still be closely monitored and that researchers would be held responsible for any violations of the law.

“The most important thing that we can do with this topic is to understand and research it so we have the necessary information to make public police,” she said.