By Teri Walker–
Attorney General Tom Horne is taking aim at cannabis clubs with his civil filing this week asking the courts to shut down four clubs and one individual claiming to be operating under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).
In July, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) asked Horne to review the legality of cannabis clubs, which provide venues for medical marijuana patients to share private supplies of marijuana.
ADHS Director Will Humble objected to the cannabis clubs, because in his view the manner in which the clubs distribute marijuana to customers violates the AMMA, which Arizona voters approved in November.
AMMA, otherwise known as Proposition 203, legalized marijuana use for individuals with specific debilitating conditions. Nearly 5,000 Arizonans have become licensed medical marijuana cardholders since the law was passed.
In the absence of state-certified dispensaries, which have been put on hold until a lawsuit challenging the legality of Proposition 203 is resolved, cannabis clubs have been emerging around the state.
In a typical club, members pay an entry fee, which ranges in price, but is generally around $50 to $100. During the visit, members may mingle with other medical marijuana patients, share personal stashes of marijuana and receive a “free sample” of marijuana.
The method of distribution of marijuana in clubs is what Horne calls into question in his request for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, which he filed on behalf of the state and the ADHS.
“The law permits one card holder to give marijuana to another card holder. But it does not permit the activities of these defendants, who charge fees to members,” said Horne. “The operators of these clubs claim that they are protected under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act when they are not registered as non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries as required under that law. These people are marketing themselves as being able to lawfully transfer marijuana, and that type of deception and blatantly illegal activity must be stopped.”
Al Sobol, founder of The 2811 Club in Phoenix, which is one of the cannabis clubs named in Horne’s civil complaint, said Horne is oversimplifying and misstating the facts related to cannabis clubs’ functions.
“Pay a membership fee and receive a free sample of marijuana,” said Sobol. “They connect that in the same sentence, when there’s a fair amount of spread between those two actions.”
Sobol said the fee charged at his club is to cover the expenses of maintaining the club facility in Phoenix, and offering the extensive educational programs and resources his organization provides.
Referring to his services as a “compassion club,” Sobol calls the facility a school campus and a patient resource facility, where people can learn how to grow marijuana, about different strains of marijuana and consult with medical counselors about treating various ailments. Marijuana is offered in the club through the Arizona Compassion Association, also named in Horne’s suit, and passed out in quantities of up to four grams, according to Sobol.
Citing Prop. 203’s provision for medical marijuana cardholders to share marijuana with one another, Sobol asks, “If I was in a movie theater and decided to give some of my marijuana to a fellow card holder there, would he (Horne) say we have to close all movie theaters?”
While Sobol takes issue with being called an illegal operation, he said he welcomes the court’s assessment of the legality of operations such as his, and believes he will prevail.
When it comes to other cannabis club operations he knows of, Sobol doesn’t express the same optimism.
“Every other club sells marijuana illegally,” he said.
“I’ve gone into some of these places that will charge you a dollar at the door, then take you to a back room, show you a row of vials, and tell you to pick what you want. Then, they’ll weigh it, bag it, and hold out their hand for payment,” he said. “I’ve warned them they’re going to get in trouble, that what they’re doing is illegal.”
Sobol said he has invited Horne to come visit The 2811 Club on three occasions to review the operations, but Horne has not responded.
The filing in Maricopa County Superior Court names The 2811 Club, The Arizona Compassion Association, Yoki A Ma’ Club, the Arizona Compassion Club and Michael R. Miller.
Horne is asking the court to “prohibit them from engaging in activities that involve selling, producing, transporting, transferring or possession of marijuana.”