Supporters of medical marijuana research have targeted a Republican state senator for recall because she is blocking a measure that could fund it. But the measure could be more public relations than actual political power.
Kathy Inman, secretary of the newly organized Arizona Veterans Assistance Committee, said Monday that Kimberly Yee has used her position as chair of the Senate Education Committee to kill a measure that would allow some of funds collected from medical marijuana users and dispensaries to be used for university-based research on the drug.
Inman said the measure, sponsored by Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, was approved unanimously by the House. And it also contains things Yee wants like funding programs to encourage those younger than 24 who are not medical marijuana users to avoid the drug.
But Yee will not give HB 2333 a hearing, virtually assuring there is no way to get it approved this year.
Yee told Capitol Media Services she is not against medical marijuana research. In fact, she pointed out that she sponsored legislation in 2013 to allow such research on university campuses.
She said, though, that she was promised at that time any research would not involve any state funds, and Yee said the money in the medical marijuana account should not be used for anything other than public service announcements to prevent drug abuse.
“As policymakers, we have to ask if this takes us down the path of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Arizona,” she said.
That, however, would not upset Inman: She is state director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Backers need 18,297 valid signatures from voters in Yee's north-central Phoenix district by Aug. 2 to force an election.
But the move could already be doomed.
Matt Roberts, press aide to Secretary of State Ken Bennett, said the law provides time to checks the signatures. Then, assuming everything is in order, the governor calls an election at least 90 days from then.
What all that means, Roberts said, is the recall election likely could not be called until after the Nov. 4 general election – and possibly not until after Yee's term ends on Jan. 12. And even if she were to lose the recall, she would take office again next year if she wins both this year's GOP primary and that Nov. 4 general election.
But Inman said she's undeterred.
If nothing else, she said the recall campaign will help educate voters, especially in Yee's district, to her single-handed decision not to let the rest of the Senate consider the measure. And that, said Inman, might make it easier for someone to defeat her.
Only thing is, at this point no one is running against Yee in the GOP primary. There are two Democrats and an independent – former Republican legislator Doug Quelland – but the district is heavily Republican.
Chandler attorney Marc Victor, who is chairing the recall effort, said the petition drive will also send a necessary message to other state legislators to not let their personal opinions sidetrack widely supported policy measures.
“It's something that may have repercussions that some of these people ought to think about,” he said.
State Health Director Will Humble said his agency currently collects about $5.5 million a year in fees from medical marijuana users and dispensaries.
But the 2010 voter-approved initiative that allows individuals with a doctor's recommendation to purchase marijuana limits the use of that money to running the program. And allowable expenses are only about $4 million a year.
Humble said there is currently about $8 million in the account.
Sue Sisley, a physician at the University of Arizona College of Medicine wants to tap those funds to finance research on whether marijuana can be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. She already has approval from a university committee and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, though she still needs final OK from the Drug Enforcement Administration – and the money for the research.
Yee said she remains committed to finding a legal use of the accumulated funds this session – but with that emphasis on public service announcements against recreational use.