Legal pot advocates will try again in 2018

If at first you don’t succeed...

A medical marijuana patient sniffs a strain of the plant at Hana Kingman dispensary, which opened a couple of years ago on Northern Avenue. A new push – led by the medical marijuana industry this time – hopes to bring to the 2018 ballot a question that would not legalize pot for recreational use, but would make it legal for a much broader spectrum of patients.

Photo by Doug McMurdo.

A medical marijuana patient sniffs a strain of the plant at Hana Kingman dispensary, which opened a couple of years ago on Northern Avenue. A new push – led by the medical marijuana industry this time – hopes to bring to the 2018 ballot a question that would not legalize pot for recreational use, but would make it legal for a much broader spectrum of patients.

PHOENIX – Less than a month after voters rejected allowing marijuana for recreational use, there’s a new – and scaled back – proposal emerging for the 2018 ballot.

The initiative crafted by operators of a medical marijuana dispensary would expand the list of conditions for which a doctor could recommend a patient be allowed to use the otherwise-illegal drug. And it also would make it easier and cheaper for patients to get their marijuana, including allowing a large percentage of them to grow their own plants.

Proponents, the operators of the Independent Wellness Center, a medical marijuana dispensary in Apache Junction, need 150,642 valid signatures on petitions by July 5, 2018, to put the measure to voters that year.

The major changes deal with who can get the drug legally and how often they need to be recertified.

As approved by voters in 2010, the law had a list of conditions that automatically entitled someone with a doctor’s certification to get the drug. These include, cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Crohn’s disease as well as medical conditions that cause seizure as well as “severe and chronic pain.’’

The state Department of Health Services, using its authority, has since added post-traumatic stress disorder.

This initiative would expand that further to include several more conditions ranging from insomnia and psoriasis to Tourette’s syndrome, neuropathy and fibromyalgia.

Campaign chairman Timothy Cronin acknowledged that some of the additional people who would qualify under the new version might already be able to get certified now under the current law, especially with that catch-all category of severe and chronic pain.

“But unfortunately, if the (medical) records do not say ‘chronic pain,’ fibromyalgia is not a qualifying condition,’’ he explained.

Then there’s the existing requirement that a doctor have a patient’s medical records from the past 12 months before providing the annual certification.

“We have a lot of patients that once they get on medical marijuana they no longer start seeing their physician any more because it worked,’’ Cronin said. He said current law forces a patient to make a special trip to a doctor, along with the expense.

Along that same financial line, the initiative proposes to cap the application fee at $10 versus the current $150.

And there’s something else.

Current law says the only legal way for someone who lives within 25 miles of a state-regulated dispensary to legally obtain the drug is to go there. State health officials said that pretty much covers all medical marijuana users.

The initiative would rewrite that to one-mile, a move that would allow those outside that radius to grow their own plants.

Cronin insisted the petition drive can succeed with just volunteers. He figures the 108,000 Arizonans who are qualified to buy up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks – and who go to dispensaries like the one he runs with brother Joshua – are a ready source of signatures.

If the measure makes the ballot it could prove harder for those who opposed Proposition 205 to object. That’s because some high-profile foes like Gov. Doug Ducey said there is no need for recreational marijuana because those who have medical need for the drug can get it legally.

And even with those objections, this year’s measure failed by only about 73,000 votes out of more than 2.5 million cast.