Pot-packaging bill dies after prosecutors drop it

2013-04-16T00:00:00Z Pot-packaging bill dies after prosecutors drop itHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
April 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - State prosecutors have given up on their bid to regulate how products with marijuana are labeled, conceding it's inconsistent with their attempts to overturn Arizona's medical marijuana law in court.

On one hand, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is asking the state Court of Appeals to void the medical marijuana law. He contends Arizona voters had no right in 2010 to set up a system to regulate who can use marijuana, because the drug remains illegal under federal law.

And in a separate appellate case, prosecutors want the Arizona Supreme Court to overrule a trial judge's order requiring the Yuma County Sheriff's Department to return marijuana seized from a woman who was entitled to possess it under that 2010 law. Here, too, the argument is that federal law pre-empts any state regulation.

Yet the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council also has been asking state lawmakers to, in essence, regulate the sale of marijuana. They sought to spell out exactly how products with marijuana have to be packaged.

So rather than face the chance their own lobbying efforts at the Capitol might be used against them in court, the prosecutors are surrendering on the labeling issue.

Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, who was sponsoring SB 1440 to allow such regulation, said Monday she will not pursue the issue now that prosecutors have withdrawn their support. Yee said lawmakers need to wait until both court cases are resolved before going any further.

Arizona's medical marijuana law permits people with a doctor's recommendation and state-issued permit to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

But the law does not require that be in a form that can be smoked. As a result, some dispensaries are offering the drug in the form of lollipops, drinks and brownies.

Yee said her fear is that a child, finding these items, might see them as candy rather than medication.

Her proposed legislation, crafted by the prosecuting attorneys, would have required any product with medical marijuana to be in a white opaque wrapper, with any labeling only in black text and on a white background.

Kim MacEachern, lobbyist for the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council, said that made sense - up to a point.

She pointed out that Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, in preparing a brief for one of the appellate court cases, argued that it is the federal government alone that gets to decide if marijuana is a legitimate drug, not the voters of Arizona and other states. Polk, who chairs the prosecutors' council, said at this point that decision is that marijuana has no legitimate purpose.

More directly related to SB 1440, MacEachern said that if marijuana is a drug, then only the Food and Drug Administration gets to decide how it has to be packaged and labeled.

So the prosecutors decided that they should not be asking lawmakers to regulate labeling while asking judges to conclude the state has no legitimate role.

"Perhaps this legislation is premature," MacEachern said Monday.

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