Arizona senator aims to tighten medical-marijuana laws

Sen. Kimberly Yee has become the go-to legislator for bills involving Arizona’s medical-marijuana law.

The Phoenix Republican is the primary sponsor of three measures this session that would tighten what members in the law-enforcement community have identified as loopholes in the 2010 voter-mandated law as well as pave the way for university researchers to study the effects of medical marijuana.

Her bills give direction to law enforcement on what to do with medical marijuana that is seized during a criminal investigation (destroy it) and would require manufacturers to put warning labels on edible medical-marijuana products — ice cream and candy, items attractive to children — similar to those on cigarettes.

We recently spoke with Yee about her work involving the medical-marijuana act. Here’s an edited excerpt:

Question: All of your bills to modify the medical-pot law have passed through the Senate and are advancing in the House, unlike a repeal measure that went nowhere. Does that say something about legislators’ acceptance of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act?

Answer: A small majority of voters passed this medical-marijuana act in 2010, so clearly it was the will of the voters to proceed with medical marijuana in this state. I believe it is the legislators’ role at this point to close any loopholes that they see in the measure, and so that’s what we’re doing here. It’s certainly not in the same path as (the) one person who sponsored the bill in repealing the act altogether.

Q: Some critics say medical marijuana is the first step toward lawful recreational use. Is that where Arizona is headed?

A: I know there are some states that are moving towards recreational use of marijuana. I don’t believe that’s something this state should (do). The voters in Arizona voted for this medical- marijuana act because it was medically based, and that’s what these bills are about, keeping it medically based. I’m finding by talking to a number of individuals in Arizona they didn’t realize some of the other elements contained in the act. For instance, allowing any person of any age, even babies and children, to have medical-marijuana use. If they had known that, they may not have voted on it.

Q: In addressing medical marijuana, are you finding resistance among your own party?

A: In committee today I did — a Higher Education Committee in the House where at least one Republican gave indication that he was not supporting any bill that had the word marijuana in (it). I thought that was surprising because, clearly, these bills have the words contained in the act. Just because a person sponsors a medical-marijuana bill does not mean that you’re advancing medical marijuana in this state. In fact, if this legislator had actually read the bill, he would see that medical marijuana is actually being advanced in a way that voters intended.

Q: You got a little defensive.

A: Yes, I think he was indicating in his statements that if you have a bill that contains the word marijuana, you would be considered a liberal. And I found that to be shortsighted because legislators should actually open the bills, read them and look at the policy within that bill. And if this particular member had done that, they would see this bill is about medical research, very tight scientific studies that are approved not only by our federal government, but our state universities in a very specified and secure setting. And I wouldn’t have been the sponsor of this bill otherwise, without all of those restrictions on the bill and ensuring that we do look at medical research in this area. And I think what’s important about this that is we may find, after our research is conducted at our universities, that we’ll be able to better understand both the positive and negative effects of medical marijuana. But we really can’t proceed blindly and continue forward in a public-policy setting without this very important information.

Q: Are you a medical-marijuana cardholder?

A: No, I’m not a cardholder. I carry a lot of bills. These are just four of them. These are health and public safety related, and education obviously. So the bills I sponsor run the gamut, and I think that’s a good broad scope. We need to carefully select the bills we sponsor and that’s what I do.

Q: Anything else?

A: I think it’s important for voters to know that as we have these types of statewide ballot initiatives, to really read them and get a full extent of what they’re about. As we’ve seen in the medical- marijuana act, there were a number of loopholes that weren’t ready for prime time. As a result, the Legislature, in the third year after the measure passed, has had to look to see how we can better implement this medical-marijuana law in Arizona. And also for voters to understand what was in this medical-marijuana act that has caused some concern. For instance, I think it would be important to let readers know the medical-marijuana act allowed for infants and young children to have access to medical marijuana. I don’t think voters realized there was no age restriction. Regardless, the voters in Arizona passed this as a slight majority, and that’s where we are today.

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