Panel votes to ban medical marijuana on Arizona campuses

A House panel voted Wednesday to ban medical marijuana use and possession on college and university campuses, setting the stage for a lawsuit.

The unanimous vote by members of the House Committee on Higher Education came after Rep. Amanda Reeve, R-Phoenix, said the schools fear loss of both direct federal aid and federally backed student loans if they allow faculty and students to possess the drug.

That was backed by Kristen Boilini who lobbies for several community colleges. She said the law will reinforce policies the schools already have in place.

Joe Yuhas, spokesman for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association, did not attend the hearing to testify against the bill. Yuhas told Capitol Media Services he believes his opposition would be meaningless.

“The Legislature is not friendly territory for us,” he said. Yuhas said unless Reeve and supporters back off, his organization and others involved in crafting the 2010 medical marijuana initiative will instead make their arguments to a judge.

That initiative allows adults with a doctor’s recommendation to possess and use marijuana. There are some limits, with the drug not allowed on public school campuses and use prohibited in public places.

HB 2349 would add the campuses of all public and private colleges and universities to the list.

Yuhas said she cannot do that.

He said a 1998 constitutional amendment, approved after legislators voided a 1996 medical marijuana law, specifically bars lawmakers from altering any voter-approved initiative.

The only exception is when a change furthers the underlying purpose of the original measure. Yuhas said denying marijuana to college students who may need it does not fit that definition.

Reeve acknowledged later that she did not reach out to Yuhas or anyone else to try to recraft the measure in a way to avoid litigation.

“I don’t know what I would negotiate with them on,” she said. Reeve said the federal laws requiring college campuses to be free of illegal drugs or risk loss of federal dollars is “pretty clear cut about what needs to be done.”

Reeve said she was hoping that eventual enactment of her bill would not land the state in court fighting medical marijuana supporters. “But they’re going to do what they need to do.”

Yuhas said supporters of the medical marijuana law have not been shy about going to court to protect the law as approved. That includes the successful effort to fight a decision by Gov. Jan Brewer who had refused to allow the health department to license dispensaries to sell the drug.

The legislation needs approval by the full House before going to the Senate.

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