Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich says that the state’s excess money from medical marijuana fees can fund drug treatment programs but noted that such programs would likely have to dictate medical marijuana as an alternative option.
Recent reports indicate that the state now has $44 million sitting in its medical marijuana account, Ahwatukee.com reports. Arizona cardholders pay $150 to the state annually. Those receiving certain types of assistance pay $75.
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) gave the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) the power to determine the fees cardholders would pay. That law also clearly outlines that the fees must be used to operate the program. But the state is currently taking in twice as much as it costs to operate the program.
Several have attempted to get the fees lowered, but the ADHS Director Cara Christ continues to ignore those requests.
Arizona’s Voter Protection Act prohibits lawmakers from repealing voter-approved initiatives. They can, however, make necessary changes to “further the purpose” of the voter approved law.
Spokesman for Mark Brnovich’s office explained that the state’s lawmakers can’t say that the card fees can fund drug addiction treatment programs. There are limits. The program has to show that it is furthering the purpose of the AMMA. Showing a link between the program and medical marijuana may be a challenge.
The spokesperson said, “You can’t just use the money to do a drug addiction program if there’s not a tie somehow to the medical marijuana program or to the medical value of medical marijuana. You would need to point out the medical benefits of marijuana or, for example, say ‘Opioid addiction is bad, perhaps you should consider the benefits of medical marijuana.’ ‘’
Mason Tvert of Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) commented on the purpose of the law, along with its fees, are supposed to ensure that patients don’t have to be in fear of prosecution. He said, “But drug addiction treatment does not seem to be one of those areas that would be unclear. Funding this service on the backs of seriously ill patients who are already having to pay for their medicine out of pocket is wrong. Given that the medical cannabis fund has a surplus, the state should lower the fees to ensure medical marijuana is an affordable treatment for seriously ill patients.’’
Two medical marijuana patients have already filed a lawsuit to lower the $150 fee, but Brnovich’s office is defending the ADHS’s position.
Sean Berberian, a local attorney, believes that the fees are illegally high, exceed the cost required to operate the program, and that the law actually prohibits the ADHS from sitting on excess funds when they’re supposed to go towards supporting the AMMA.