PHOENIX - Rejecting the pleas of the state's former top federal prosecutor, a House panel voted Thursday to let police destroy marijuana they have seized, even if it turns out the person had a right to possess it.
Melvin McDonald, who was the U.S. attorney for Arizona in the early 1980s, told members of the Judiciary Committee that SB 1441 is an improper end run around the 2010 voter-approved Medical Marijuana Act. And he called the fear by police they will be subject to prosecution under federal law if they give back the drugs "utter nonsense."
McDonald told lawmakers of the seizures suffered by his stepson, Bennett Black, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 1997 accident and eventually had to have part of his brain removed. McDonald said both the seizures and the pills designed to control them made Bennett sick and nauseous.
It was only when his wife, Cindy, began to get marijuana for their son - illegally until the law was passed - that he was actually able to eat and reverse the weight loss from 180 pounds to 118 pounds.
Committee members approved the measure anyway on a 5-3 party-line vote.
However, two of the Republicans who supported the legislation said they did so to give the full House a chance to weigh in. But they expressed concern with anything they believe undermines the 2010 law.
Rep. Ethan Orr of Tucson said he fears the legislation could be used to effectively shut down an entire medical marijuana clinic by seizing the drugs, leaving its patients without their drugs while the clinic owners sought out a new supply.
And Rep. Doris Goodale of Kingman explained how she used to be against anyone using marijuana.
"I have come to realize through personal family situations that yes, there is an applicable use of medical marijuana," she said. Goodale also said she does not want to undermine the will of the public that created the program.
Those soft Republican votes are only part of the problem faced by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council, which already has pushed the measure through the Senate.
Because the law was adopted by voters, it can be amended only with a three-fourths vote of each chamber. That means proponents have to persuade 45 of the 60 House members to go along.
The legislation is designed to overturn a ruling last year by the state Court of Appeals, which ordered marijuana seized from a California medical marijuana patient who was stopped just inside Arizona be returned.
McDonald told lawmakers that any concern about federal prosecution is "utter nonsense."
"The Department of Justice has more issues on their plate than to worry about a deputy sheriff turning back to a lady marijuana that should have never been seized in the first place," he said.