Lawmakers Look For Ways To Spend The Medical Marijuana Assessment Fee Surplus

By  Holliday Moore, Howard Fischer
Published: Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 5:00am
Updated: Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 5:05am

Several bills coming up for debate at the Capitol focus on how to spend the Department of Health Services' increasing pile of money from the $150 medical marijuana assessment fee.

Since voters approved the drug in 2010, DHS records show it has needed about half the assessment fee dollars to administer and regulate the drug, leaving more than $40 million in an accruing account.

An attorney has sued the state to reduce the fee assessment, but that would become a mute argument if any of three measures planning to spend the surplus funds passes.

Rep. Vince Leach, a Tucson Republican, has authored two House bills targeting medical marijuana. One would ban drug manufacturers from distributing the product in candy shapes or advertising in cartoon themes that entice children.

His second bill would use the surplus dollars to intensify awareness and drug abuse campaigns.

"We're obviously not doing a good job of educating people about the harmful effects of drugs," Leach said, "whether they be alcohol, whether they be medical marijuana, whether it be opioids.''

He suspects many people are abusing the legitimate purposes for legalizing medical marijuana.

"First of all, we know there's a limited number of doctors issuing the vast majority of [prescriptions]," Leach said. "Let's get in front of this situation with recreational or medical marijuana and stop it."

Across the Capitol, Sen. David Farnsworth has argued the state spend $5 million from the surplus fund to help law enforcement better track illegal distribution of medical marijuana.

All three measures could have a significant hurdle.

Because the 2010 law was approved by voters, the Arizona Constitution allows changes only with a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate. And even if Leach or Farnsworth can get that margin, any change is subject to the separate constitutional requirement to show the new legislation "furthers the purpose'' of the original law.

No date has been set for a hearing on any of the measures.

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