Medical-Marijuana Destruction Bill Likely Dead, Says Lobbying Firm; Amendments Possible on Pot-Packaging Bill

State Senator Kimberly Yee's plan to let cops seize and destroy medical-marijuana at their whim appears dead, a political consultant for the dispensary industry says.

Jason Rose, previously a PR guy for the likes of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas, now counts among his clients the Regulated Dispensaries of Arizona Association. The burgeoning industry has been concerned about two of the Republican politician's proposals -- the seizure bill, SB 1441, and a bill that deals with the packaging and advertising of medical marijuana, SB 1440.

As we noted when Yee first floated the bills last month, the seizure bill allowed police to destroy seized medical-marijuana even when the patient had a legal right to possess it. For example, an officer who takes custody of a couple of ounces of pot during an investigation could learn that the patient's registration card was valid, yet would be legally able to destroy the pricey produce.

Rose says he believes that bill has died due to concerns that it might violate Arizona's 1998 Voter Protection Act.

See also: Mel McDonald, Former Anti-Drug U.S. Attorney, Speaks Against Pot-Destroying Law

See also: Kimberly Yee, State Lawmaker, Wants to Give Cops the Right to Destroy Seized Medical Pot -- Even if Cops Seized it Illegally

That voter-approved law requires that any law enacted by citizens' initiative, (like Prop. 203), cannot be altered by the State Legislature unless it furthers the intent of the law. Even then, a change requires a two-thirds majority vote.

The seizure bill hasn't been scheduled for any more committee hearings, Rose adds.

Yee's worried the same thing could happen to the packaging and advertising bill, Rose says.

"Late yesterday, Senator Yee called our lobbyist and said, 'I think this bill could die -- let's get together and talk amendments,'" he says.

If the talks don't pan out, the Regulated Dispensaries of Arizona Association will "have no choice but to oppose the bill and try to kill it," Rose says.

The bill requires the state Department of Health Services, which oversees the medical-marijuana program, to "immediately revoke" a dispensary's license to operate if it packages or advertises its products in a way that "misbrands" or states that its use is for something "other than allowable medicinal purposes."

Amendments already adopted for the bill include: Requiring labeling of medical marijuana to use only black text on a white background; and requiring any medical-marijuana package to be white and opaque.

"The whole thing is about protecting children," attorney Kim McEachern of the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council told us yesterday. The council, a state government agency made up of prosecutors like Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and State Attorney General Tom Horne, is supporting the bill.

We get the well-worn child-protection angle. But when it comes to packaging, the Medical-Marijuana Act already requires that the product be labeled as medical marijuana, making Yee's bill is unnecessary for that purpose. McEachern agrees that even if the bill passed, a dispensary could drop a colorfully packaged product into a plain bag and still be covered under her proposal. That means, as far as we can tell, the problem of irresponsible parents allowing children to accidentally eat weed-infused food products won't be going away, with or without Yee's plan.

The real problem inherent in SB 1440 is its arbitrary approach to enforcement. According to McEachern, if someone at the DHS decides that a dispensary's advertising over packaging has stepped over the line, the dispensary can be shut down. The bill contains no provision for an appeal.

McEachern says the standard would be if a "reasonable person" thought the potential law had been violated.

Yet when we asked McEachern to describe how an ad might "misbrand" medical marijuana, she only gave a vague response: A violation could be triggered "if the overall branding thing you get from that advertisement is part of that whole picture of that product."

That's about as clear as year-old bongwater. Worse, as Rose explains it, "If you violate it one time, your business is over. It's over! Even criminals in this state get three strikes before they're out."

One possibility under Yee's bill is that a dispensary employee could forget to put a product in the proper bag -- and the dispensary would be shut down, Rose says.

"This is about a clever back-door way to shut down the program," he says.

Despite that sentiment, Rose says the dispensary group still plans to work with Yee to make the packaging and advertising bill palatable to everyone. The overall purpose of the bill, to keep medicine out of the hands of children, is a "good thing," he admits.

At the least, he says, the dispensaries need a series of gradual sanctions for violations that could serve as warnings.

Yee has never returned our previous calls and emails, so we didn't disturb her today for a comment.

In any case, she's clearly busy trying to save her bills and stave off accusations by other Republicans that she's a liberal for supporting any marijuana bill.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.