Arizona Medical Marijuana Act moves forward following recent court rulings

Last week Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer retracted her lawsuit against the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which will allow prospective medical marijuana dispensaries to apply for their licenses. (Photo by Beth Easterbrook)

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton dismissed Gov. Jan Brewer’s lawsuit against the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act on Jan. 4. Brewer announced in a Jan. 13 press release she would not file her lawsuit again.

In reaction to Brewer’s delay on the implementation of the AMMA, Compassion First LLC filed a lawsuit in July 2011 seeking to change the proposed restrictions for dispensary applicants.

Compassion First is a for-profit group that aids those inquiring about opening a dispensary in Arizona.

On Thursday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Richard Gama issued a verdict in favor of Compassion First, which overturned rules in AMMA that restricted who can apply and run a medical marijuana dispensary.

 

PROPOSITION 203

Voters approved Proposition 203, AMMA, in November 2010.

The proposition allows a patient, whose “debilitating condition” meets a set of criteria specified in the law, to obtain marijuana with the permission of a doctor. It also established an application system for a maximum of 125 nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries in Arizona.

The dispensaries are to be monitored by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The approval of Proposition 203, which passed by a narrow margin, was met with both criticism and praise.

In a press release issued Jan. 13, Brewer clarified her stance on Proposition 203 and what action the state will take.

“It is well-known that I did not support passage of Proposition 203,” Brewer said, “(However), the state of Arizona will not re-file in federal court a lawsuit.”

 

LAWSUIT AGAINST THE ARIZONA MEDICAL MARIJUANA ACT

Brewer, with the support of Attorney General Tom Horne, filed a lawsuit two days before Arizona was to begin accepting dispensary applications on May 29, 2011.

Brewer filed her case in an effort to protect state employees from possible federal prosecution based on their activities in administering the medical marijuana law.

She said Arizona began implementing Proposition 203 on April 14, 2011 and continued its implementation until the state received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice in May.

According to the letter, “growing, distributing and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws that purport to permit such activities.”

 

DISMISSING BREWER’S LAWSUIT

In her Jan. 4 ruling, Bolton said there is no active case in which to intervene and a “generalized threat” was not enough to warrant a ruling in Brewer’s favor.

“(Brewer’s) complaint details no concrete or imminent threat of enforcement,” Bolton wrote in her judgment. “Nor does it describe with any credible detail a state employee at risk of federal prosecution.”

Bolton granted Brewer 30 days to amend her case.

 

BREWER’S RESPONSE

Although Brewer withdrew her lawsuit against the law on Jan. 13, she warned she would take action should anything arise that is potentially threatening to state employees.

“Know this: I won’t hesitate to halt state involvement in the AMMA if I receive indication that state employees face prosecution due to their duties in administering this law,” Brewer said in a Jan. 13 statement.

Following the withdrawal of her lawsuit, Brewer said the Arizona Department of Health Services would begin accepting and processing medical marijuana dispensary applications once the lawsuit filed by Compassion First was resolved, though the process for accepting these applications has yet to be determined.

 

COMPASSION V. ARIZONA

In the lawsuit, Compassion v. Arizona, Compassion First challenged rules in Proposition 203 that would restrict who can manage a medical marijuana dispensary. Such rules included state residency requirements and an exclusion of those who have previously filed bankruptcy.

On Tuesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Richard Gama issued a ruling that overturned these proposed restrictions for dispensary applicants. However, he did uphold rules that require dispensaries to comply with state laws.

Judge Gama also ordered that Brewer and the state proceed with the application process to approve dispensaries.

In his ruling, which became available to the public Wednesday, Gama sided with Judge Bolton and said the state had no right to further delay the implementation of AMMA.

“Defendants cite no authority for this proposition and the court has found none,” Gama said in his ruling. “The voters intended the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act to be implemented within 120 days. This has not been done.”

Allan Sobol, operations manager at Marijuana Marketing Strategies and founder of Arizona Cannabis University, said that he was excited about the legal progress AMMA has made within the last two weeks.

“The law was 100 percent on our side,” Sobol said. “You have to have damages if you are going to file a lawsuit and (Brewer) had no merits to her case.”

 

ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES

Will Humble, ADHS Director, said in a statement on Thursday that ADHS is contemplating the best way to responsibly begin the application process for dispensaries following Gama’s ruling.

“ADHS is working to determine the next steps to begin accepting dispensary applications,” Humble wrote on his blog.

In response to the hold on AMMA’s progression in Arizona over the last year, Steven Proctor, one of the four leaders of NORML at ASU, a college chapter of NORML whose goal is to educate students about cannabis and marijuana laws, said that state representatives are procrastinating on implementing AMMA.

“We should be more critical of (the Brewer administration and the ADHA) at this point because they’re seeking a judgment with an argument that was said (by Judge Bolton) to be fruitless,” Proctor, an economics junior, said. “It’s time for them to implement Prop. 203.”

There are currently 18,000 Arizonan medical marijuana cardholders, 15,000 of which are legally allowed to grow their own marijuana.

To be eligible to grow legalized medical marijuana, one must live outside of the 25-mile radius of the nearest dispensary, as set by AMMA. However, since Brewer’s lawsuit temporarily suspended the dispensary portion of AMMA, more people have been given approval by ADHS to grow within the comfort of their own home since there are currently no legal dispensaries in Arizona.

Nonetheless, as a result of increased federal pressure, there have been raids in California and Washington on people who have legal permission to grow marijuana.

“Right now, people are sort-of living under fear that the federal government will bust them,” Proctor said.

Though there is no set date for when dispensary applications will be available, AMMA requires the ADHA to accept applications that would add new medical conditions not currently approved. Those whose conditions are accepted would qualify for a medical marijuana card.

In order for an application to be approved, the submitter must provide evidence that the condition impairs daily life, that marijuana would provide medical relief from said condition, and if other medical treatments would provide benefits for the condition. Not every submitted medical condition is approved.

The applications are available every July and January. This year, the ADHA will accept applications from Jan. 23-27.

Following the last week of January, the ADHA will review the applications with the help of teams from UA’s College of Public Health and Biomedical Campus.

In a Jan. 13 blog post, Humble said that ADHS could begin accepting dispensary applications this summer.

 

Reach the reporter at aklee8@asu.edu

 

Click here to subscribe to the daily State Press newsletter.