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Medical marijuana inspections proposed

PHOENIX -- A Lake Havasu City senator says he's still has yet to be convinced that marijuana has any legitimate medical uses.

But Republican Sonny Borrelli said Monday the fact remains that voters did approve legalizing the drug for medical uses in 2010 and more than 150,000 Arizonans have state permission to buy and use it. So he figures it's the state's obligation to ensure that buyers are getting a product that's not tainted and, in fact, has the amount of psychoactive THC that buyers are promised.

SB 1420 would give the state Department of Agriculture the same authority over marijuana as it now has over other plants offered for sale for consumption. That would give agriculture inspectors the power to inspect the cultivation facilities where marijuana is grown.

More to the point, Borrelli wants what is being grown tested for what operators are using on the plants.

"It's the Wild West,'' he said of the current state of marijuana regulation, with no rules on pesticides and other chemicals being used on the plants.

For example, he cited a fungicide marketed as "Eagle 20.'' Borrelli said federal regulations prohibit its use on tobacco "because it's a heavy carcinogen.''

But those same federal rules are silent on use on marijuana, meaning it can be used.

"Well, I think the person that's buying that stuff, they need to know there's a heavy carcinogen in there,'' Borrelli said. "If you're a cancer patient, would you want to be taking medicine that could make you even sicker?''

Nothing in the legislation would ban any specific chemical. But it would require that when the marijuana is sold at the dispensary that buyers are made aware that it was used in the production.

"I want to concentrate on customer safety,'' he said.

Moldy marijuana is a slightly different question.

Borrelli said he's been told it can be treated to get rid of any fungus rather than retailers having to toss out the plants entirely. At that point it could be offered for sale -- along with information on how it was treated.

But Borrelli's legislation also has what might be considered the consumer fraud provision.

"If they're going to advertise there's 20 percent THC and it's only 5 percent, they need to relabel it,'' he said.

If approved, the measure would have another benefit for the more than 150,000 individuals who now have state-issued ID cards allowing them to purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks: More cash in their pockets.

The original 2010 voter-approved legislation did not set a fee, leaving that up to the Department of Health Services to charge enough to administer the program. In fact, the law bars the proceeds from being used for anything else.

The agency currently charges patients $150 for one of the cards, a fee that has to be paid every year.

"It's kind of hard to justify when they're sitting on $40 million,'' Borrelli said, with current Health Director Cara Christ having refused requests to lower the fees, even in the face of a lawsuit by medical marijuana users.

Christ won the first round when Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry said she lacked the legal authority to declare the fees excessive, even with the health department running the program with a huge surplus.

SB 1420 would lower that to $50 for the first year and $25 for renewals.

His legislation also would give $2 million out of that health department account to the Department of Agriculture to start administering then program.

The measure is being approached cautiously by the Marijuana Policy Project, the national organization that put the initiative on the 2010 ballot and worked to get it approved.

"In principle, additional safeguards that prevent contamination with molds and pesticides is something we support,'' said spokesman Morgan Fox, saying he wants to ensure they are "not too onerous for caregivers in practice.''

But he said he wants to review it further before taking a position.

"I'm particularly curious to see if there would be additional or unintended requirements or restrictions that come with medical marijuana being defined as an agricultural commodity,'' Fox said.

It also appears to have the cautious support of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery who has waged repeated unsuccessful efforts to have the Arizona initiative voided because it runs contrary to federal law where possession of the drug remains a felony.

"Unless and until the federal government takes action we have an obligation to ensure the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act is truly operated as a system for people who have a medical basis for using marijuana,'' he told Capitol Media Services. "Replicating the protections the users of any other type of medicine would have is a reasonable and responsible course of action.''

Because the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act was enacted by voters, it can be amended only with a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate. Borrelli already is moving to get that margin, getting another 78 of the state's 90 lawmakers to sign on in support, including Senate President Steve Yarbrough and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard.

But it also would have to survive a possible veto by Gov. Doug Ducey who said as recently as last week that he has seen no evidence that marijuana has any legitimate medical uses.

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New NAU lab studies the mechanics of the human body

Northern Arizona University’s new Human Performance Lab is a collaborative effort that is making other universities around the country envious.

The new lab contains a motion capture system, similar to the ones used by theaters to create computer-generated movies, a high-tech treadmill that can measure the force of a footfall and remote sensors that can stream information about muscle movements in real time to a computer.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Anthony Hessel a PhD candidate at Northern Arizona University describes his work with function motorized prosthesis, Thursday afternoon at the Center for Bio Engineering Innovation’s Human Performance Lab.

The lab will be used by five or six different departments for research and study, including students in the university’s physical therapy classes, the biomechatronics lab and the Center for Bioengineering Innovations, said Kiisa Nishikawa, the director of NAU’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation.

For example, students in physical therapy professor Tarang Jain’s classes will be able to use the treadmill and other equipment in the lab to help patients who may have had a stroke or have Parkinson’s disease or a runner who may have injured themselves.

The treadmill, which is sunk into the floor, has two belts that can run at different speeds and can be adjusted for someone who is weaker on one side of their body, Jain said. It also has force plates under the belts that register how much force a person is exerting on either side of their body when they walk, run or jump.

The motion capture system uses a series of reflective dots taped to a person’s body and a series of cameras positioned around the top of the room to record movements of the human body, he said. This can help students find differences in a person’s gait or stance that may be causing them pain.

The remote sensors can be attached to the body and tell a student how the muscles in a patient’s body are working or not working, Jain said. This can help students identify areas were muscles are weaker and may need strengthening.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Dan Rivera ,a student at Northern Arizona University, showcases his work on what's inside the muscle Thursday afternoon at the Center for Bio Engineering Innovation’s Human Performance Lab.

For professor Zachary Lerner, the equipment is a way of testing his and his students’ exoskeleton prototypes. Lerner, who runs the university’s Biomechatronics Lab, creates custom-built electronic exoskeletons to help children with cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular disabilities walk better.

Lerner said the lab will help him and his students study the mechanics of the human body and improve the way they design and craft an exoskeleton. It can also help them understand how their patients’ body works before, during and after wearing the device.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Michael Bair, a graduate research assistant at Northern Arizona University, prepares to showcase his work Thursday afternoon at the Center for Bio Engineering Innovation’s Human Performance Lab.

The exoskeletons are designed to help the children with rehabilitation and physical therapy, as well as help them to get around the community, he said. The youngest patient they are currently working with is 5-year-old. Making a product that can fit a person that small and still be light enough for the child to carry easily is difficult.

Nishikawa’s department specializes in creating motorized lower limb prostheses. The new lab can help them understand the mechanics and the forces used by the muscles in the lower limbs, said Anthony Hessel, who works in Nishikawa’s department. This can help them develop and improve the software they use to program the motors they use in their powered BiOM T2 prostheses. They can also test their products out in the lab to see the results.

The idea behind the BiOM T2 is to improve the balance and stability of people who need a lower limb prosthetic, Hessel said. The programing is designed to mimic the way the muscles, which are no longer there, would react while walking over rough terrain or the way the muscles compensate when you step off a curb wrong.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

David Schultz the Vice President for research at Northern Arizona University cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of The Center for Bio Engineering Innovation’s Human Performance Lab Thursday afternoon.

The lab has also been used by high school seniors from Flagstaff Arts and Leadership as part of their senior dance project. The students used the lab’s motion capture and remote sensors to study the forces on a dancer’s body while in movement.

Funding for the more than $300,000 lab came from three different colleges and five different departments within the university, Nishikawa said. Some colleges even donated money from their salaries to get the lab up and running. They also received donations from outside sponsors.

Fundraising and work on the lab took about two years to complete, she said. The various departments that use the lab also hope to partner with local medical facilities and businesses in the community to do more research. Nishikawa also hopes the new lab will attract new talent to the university.

Randy Wilson, Arizona Daily Sun 

The Praying Nuns hover above the Chapel Trail in Sedona.

Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services 

Mark Finchem