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The State of Medical Marijuana in Arizona
2020 Grade: B-
2019-2020 Improvements and Recommendations
Little has changed regarding policy improvements to the state’s program in the past year. Arizona’s legislative agenda was upended by the need to focus on coronavirus emergency measures, and no cannabis legislation cleared the legislature this year. However language was included in state emergency coronavirus legislation that declared medical cannabis dispensaries essential businesses, authorized delivery from legal storefronts as well as curbside pickup at these locations. Unlike some state partners, Arizona did not authorize patients to utilize telemedicine to determine eligibility or acquire a recommendation. In November of this year, improved medical cannabis testing standards authorized under SB 1494 in 2019 will go into effect, as well reduced patient fees.
While lawmakers may need to dedicate some of their time in 2021 on legislative cleanup related to the 2020 passage of adult-use initiative, ASA recommends that state elected leaders also revisit and repair many of the flaws existing in the state’s medical program. Specifically ASA encourages consideration of legislation to improve product testing and labeling, as well as focusing on efforts to reduce the cost of medical cannabis and cannabis products to patients.
50.13 percent of Arizona voters approved the Arizona Medical Marijuana Question (Prop 203) in 2010. The corresponding Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) for the first time allowed patients with an Arizona registry ID card to use cannabis for medical purposes. Under the law patients may appoint a designated caregiver for assistance, patients and their caregivers may possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable cannabis and may cultivate up to 12 plants if they live at least 25 miles away from a registered dispensary. The law recognizes out-of-state medical cannabis IDs for the purposes of criminal protections but does not permit visiting patients to obtain cannabis from Arizona dispensaries. Due to a series of lawsuits, the Arizona Department of Health Services did not post rules for the Medical Marijuana Dispensary portion of the AMMA until 2012. The first medical cannabis dispensary opened in Arizona in December of 2012 with the requirement that at least one dispensary be located in each county, and if more are authorized they do not exceed a ratio greater than 1:10 to licensed and operating pharmacies in the state. Arizona opened its first drive-thru dispensary in 2017, and today over 100 medical cannabis dispensaries operate legally in the Grand Canyon State.
Since the passage of the AMMA, the legislature has passed several laws restricting the rights of patients which ASA recommends reversing to protect patients. HB 2541, which was passed in 2011, allows an employer to fire a patient for workplace impairment solely on the word of a “reliable” colleague or a positive drug test. HB 2585 added cannabis patient data to the prescription drug monitoring program that same year. In 2012 HB 2349 prohibited medical cannabis at schools, vocational schools, and college campuses, but the Arizona Supreme Court overturned this law as unconstitutional in State v. Maestas. In 2015 HB 2346 specified that the AMMA does not require workers’ compensation benefits to include reimbursement for medical cannabis. In 2017 the legislature passed HB 2061, which requires dispensaries and doctors to warn of the potential risk of using cannabis while breastfeeding or pregnant. In 2019 an AZ court ruled that a recommendation letter from a California doctor is just as valid as an AZ-issued medical cannabis ID card, which has significant implications for patient reciprocity. In May 2019, the AZ Supreme Court ruled that medical cannabis extracts are legal, and a federal judge in Arizona ruled that Walmart improperly terminated an employee for state-legal medical cannabis use.
Some surveyed patients report that access to medical cannabis has gotten better, especially access to quality flower and improvement on the variety of products now sold. Other surveyed patients are concerned with the lack of testing and safety regulations in the state. Costs of products and taxes were also reported to remain exceptionally high, causing some surveyed patients to purchase cheaper products in the illicit market. Surveyed patients appreciate that their medical cannabis patient card renewal was extended to two years without a change in cost whereas prior patient cards had to be renewed every year. Patient cards are now available digitally and available within three days instead of 10 days via airmail. Some surveyed patients would like for the curbside pickup and dispensary cleanliness emergency provisions organized under COVID to be maintained after the pandemic has passed.