It was a photo of executives around a table with Gov. Doug Ducey — a common site of the businessman turned governor. But it was notable because of the industry with which they were all associated: marijuana.
The meeting earlier this month was the first time the governor met with members of the medical marijuana industry.
It was part of an ongoing discussion between industry representatives and the governor’s staff to introduce tweaks to Arizona’s medical marijuana program. Among the preliminary proposals, according to an attendee, are lower annual fees for medical marijuana users.
For the industry, it was a welcome show of support by a governor who had strongly opposed legalizing recreational marijuana and has suggested he isn’t a big fan of medical marijuana, either.
“What was really almost unspoken, but clear, was that everybody in this room thinks that medical marijuana has a stronger role to play in Arizona,” said Kevin DeMenna, a lobbyist for the marijuana industry and a longtime fixture at the state Capitol. “Six months ago, that was not the message.”
Ducey posted photos of the April 5 meeting on his Twitter feed.
“Met today with members of the medical marijuana community to discuss how we can see eye-to-eye on improving the law and protecting public health,” his post read. “Thank you for a really productive conversation.”
‘Breath of fresh air’ from Governor’s Office
Mark Steinmetz, president of the Arizona Dispensary Association, said he and other members of the industry have met with staff members of the Governor’s Office over the past few months.
He said the benefits of medical marijuana seemed to be a given in those discussions.
“We’re hearing a recognition of the medical value (of marijuana),” he said. “That was a breath of fresh air to hear that.”
Steinmetz said the industry believes the current program fees, paid for annually by medical marijuana cardholders and dispensary employees, are too high. The fee for a user to obtain a card from the state is $150. Dispensary agents pay $500 each year.
Those fees, along with money from civil penalties and private donations, feed a fund that is supposed to pay for implementation of the medical marijuana program. But that fund is running a surplus, currently projected at $41 million, according to legislative documents.
That surplus, Steinmentz said, points to a glaring need to redo the program.
“It hasn’t been spent,” Steinmentz said. “It’s sitting there.”
What may be on the table next year
Seinmetz said he hoped his group, working with the Governor’s Office, would have concrete proposals for changing the medical marijuana program to introduce in the Legislature for the 2019 session. Ducey faces re-election this fall.
DeMenna said those could include reduced annual fees for medical marijuana users and employees of dispensaries. He also said changes to the law would bring additional revenue to the state.
“Everything that people have talked about,” he said, “finally done right.”
Ducey was an outspoken foe of a ballot measure in 2016 that would have legalized recreational marijuana in the state.
Earlier this year, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed a memo that told federal prosecutors not to target marijuana users in state’s with medical marijuana provisions, Ducey was quoted by Capitol Media Services, as saying, “I always thought we should enforce federal law, just like we should enforce state law.”