Advocates call for funding of marijuana research

PHOENIX - Military veterans rallied near the Arizona Capitol in an attempt to persuade lawmakers to pay for a clinical study at the University of Arizona that looks at the health benefits of medical marijuana.

The veterans and other medical-marijuana supporters who held the rally Wednesday evening believe that pot needs to be studied to learn how it might be able to remedy post-traumatic stress disorder. They say legislation that would have enabled the state to use part of the fund it receives from sales of medical-marijuana permits was unfairly killed in the legislature.

The University of Arizona received approval recently from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct long-delayed marijuana research that has been in the works for more than two decades. The approval was an important milestone for the project, but it still needs money from the state of Arizona to carry out the research, along with approval from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

While more than 1 million Americans take medical marijuana -- usually for chronic pain -- rigorous medical research into the drug's effects has been limited, in part because of federal restrictions.

Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, refused to hear House Bill 2333 in the Senate Committee on Education, which she chairs. The bill would have allowed the state Department of Health Services to pay for some of the research into marijuana as a treatment for military veterans with PTSD. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, had bipartisan support when the Arizona House of Representatives approved it March 10.

"We want these funds to be used. We think it's very undemocratic that Sen. Yee would choose to ignore a bill that was supported by a wide margin in the Arizona House," said Jessica Gelay, a policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

A Republican spokesman says Yee does not oppose marijuana research, but she is against using state money for it.

"In fact, just last year, she sponsored the marijuana research bill to allow the University of Arizona to proceed with this study. When that bill was moving through the process, the researchers assured lawmakers that no state money would be used in that research. Now, the same researchers are pushing HB 2333, and it does use limited state resources," spokesman Mike Philipsen said in a statement.

Gelay said researchers would request $250,000 from the state for the study. The entire cost of study is $750,000, much of which would be paid by private donors, Gelay said. The Arizona fund that collects fees for medical marijuana, which is not part of the state's general fund, currently has $7.5 million and is projected to have $9.6 million at the end of fiscal year 2014, she said.

Yee has said that money should be used for anti-drug prevention and education. A bill she sponsored that would restrict the fund to that purpose died in the Senate.

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