How Arizona Could Stop Ripping Off Medical-Marijuana Patients, Make Program Better

Arizona rips off medical-marijuana patients by collecting fees that are much higher than what it costs for the state Department of Health Services to run the program.

Last year, for instance, DHS could have funded its $11.7 million in expenditures by collecting $5.7 million from patients. Instead, the state agency collected $18.9 million from them. The extra money went into a useless overflow account that now sits at more than $33 million.

“I wish I would have thought about writing the rule to include a variable fee.” — Former Arizona DHS Director Will Humble

A bill co-sponsored by nearly the entire Legislature, Senate Bill 1420, would change the equation. It would bring down the cost of a medical marijuana card from $150 a year to something more reasonable — something lower-income or fixed-income people could afford.

For many people, the best part is that it would also mandate state-regulated testing for mold and other contaminants in medical marijuana.

But would the bill trade the state program’s high annual surpluses for annual deficits that could end up costing  taxpayers?

According to the state’s budget office, the answer is yes.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) produced an analysis recently that showed SB 1420 would cause the medical marijuana program to fail to pay for itself.

State Senator John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, mentioned the state analysis in a January 31 senate Government Committee hearing, pointing out to panel members that the program would be underfunded if the bill became law.

The bill would lower the annual card fee from $150 ($75 for food-stamp recipients) to $50 for new patients and $25 for renewing patients.

Phoenix New Times requested the state analysis last week. On Thursday evening, New Times received the updated budget analysis on SB 1420. The analysis was also sent to

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