Measure to study marijuana use, violence clears House with GOP support




Photo courtesy Chuck Grimmett

Money collected by Arizona’s medical marijuana program would be used to study links between marijuana usage and violent behavior under a proposal approved this week by Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives.

The measure, which would have to be approved by voters in November to take effect, is the brainchild of House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. Bowers said the impetus was a controversial book he read that purports mental illness and violent behavior is caused by marijuana use in some people.

That book, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence,” has been widely criticized for cherry-picking data and presenting correlation as causation. Bowers read a portion of the book on the House floor March 11 while the chamber debated his House Concurrent Resolution 2045

Initially, Bowers sought to sharply limit the THC limit of marijuana products to no more than 2% THC content. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. But that provision was stripped out of the bill by a floor amendment, and Bowers complained that he had “been mocked” for including it.

The version approved by the House would mandate that the Arizona Department of Health Services develop warning labels for marijuana products to inform users of potential ill effects. It also requires the department – which oversees the medical marijuana program – to study the relationship between marijuana, schizophrenia and violent behavior using money gathered from the medical marijuana program.

Rep. Pamela Powers-Hannley, D-Tucson, the ranking Democrat on the House Health and Human Services Committee, said she was concerned about limiting the scope of the research to two topics. 

“There are a lot of unanswered questions in the bill,” Powers-Hannley said, adding that labeling for marijuana products is already part of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. 

The labels already include that marijuana “can be addictive” and can impair a person’s ability to drive, and that smoking marijuana can increase your risk for cancer and other complications. They also include a warning to keep marijuana products out of the reach of children. 

Bowers expressed indignance when Powers-Hannley asked if he’d consulted with the medical marijuana industry when crafting his legislation.

“One of the first people I don’t go to for information on the product is the dispensary lobbyists,” Bowers said. 

“It’s obvious that many here want to justify the use of marijuana,” Bowers said, adding that he wants to put labels on the product that state marijuana creates a “propensity to violence.”

The book Bowers held in his hand during Wednesday’s debate is by former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, and has been widely condemned by the scientific community – even from those whose studies he cited as evidence. 

UCLA cannabis researcher Ziva Cooper took to Twitter to dispute claims made in Berenson’s book, as one of her studies was heavily cited as evidence that marijuana causes violence and psychosis. 

Additionally, 100 scholars and clinicians have signed an open letter denouncing the book as “junk science,” claiming that it infers causation from correlation

The bill on a party-line vote, 31-27, with all of the chamber’s Republicans supporting it. It heads next to the Senate. If it wins approval there, it will be on the 2020 ballot.