By Teri Walker–
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Governor Jan Brewer that had stopped implementation of the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana law.
Brewer filed a lawsuit last May asking the court to clarify whether the state’s medical marijuana law, passed by voters in 2010, overrode federal drug laws.
In her argument, Brewer said state officials are afraid they’ll face federal prosecution if they implement Arizona’s law, which calls for providing marijuana to patients through state-regulated dispensaries.
Bolton threw out the lawsuit, saying that there is no imminent threat of federal regulators planning to go after state employees who would enact state law, nor is there any real indication that the state plans to fully implement the law.
“Certainly, the ruling is a disappointment. What this federal court has essentially said is, it won’t hear the state’s lawsuit until a state employee is prosecuted or notified that they imminently face federal prosecution for their part in administering Proposition 203,” said Matthew Benson, Brewer’s director of communications. “That is an untenable position for state employees simply doing their jobs.”
Brewer, along with Attorney General Tom Horne, filed the lawsuit in response to federal prosecutors, including former Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, ramping up their efforts against the medical marijuana industry.
Although Brewer and Horne cited concerns about protecting employees from federal prosecution, the federal prosecutors themselves have said their sights are set on major drug traffickers.
Burke has said the federal government has “no intention of targeting or going after people who are implementing or who are in compliance with state law.”
“The Arizona Association of Dispensary Professionals (AADP) believes the governor’s complaint was disingenuous and frivolous, and a concerted scheme with other government officials who conspired to thwart the will of the Arizona voters and intentionally delay, impede and otherwise prevent the (law) from being implemented,” said Allan Sobol, president of AADP. “Whether you are pro or con marijuana, you need to be alarmed with the governor’s attempts to override the will of the voters.”
AADP and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked the U.S. District Court to toss the lawsuit, and applaud the court’s decision.
“It is unconscionable for Governor Brewer to continue to force very sick people to needlessly suffer by stripping them of the legal avenue through which to obtain their vital medicine,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project. “Today’s ruling underscores the need for state officials to stop playing politics and implement the law as approved by a majority of Arizona voters so that thousands of patients can access the medicine their doctors believe is most effective for them.”
The Arizona law, Proposition 203, allows seriously ill patients to use marijuana as medicine, with a doctor’s recommendation.
The law allows marijuana to be distributed by clinics to patients with state-issued registry cards and exempts from state prosecution not only patients, but also their caregivers and certified medical marijuana dispensaries that serve qualifying patients.
Arizona has issued nearly 19,000 medical marijuana cards to patients since the law’s passage, and about 15,000 people have requested permission to grow the marijuana plants. (Under the law, individuals may grow up to 12 plants per person, if they are more than 25 miles from an approved dispensary.)
Under state law, Arizona can issue permits for up to 126 dispensaries, one for each community health analysis area, which is an area defined by Arizona Department of Health Services to track public health statistics.
A licensed medical marijuana patient could possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana obtained from a dispensary every 14 days.
Just before the state was going to begin issuing permits for dispensaries, the governor filed the suit.
Bolton has given Brewer 30 days to amend her complaint.
“The governor is studying the court order, and will be deciding–in coordination with her legal counsel–the best course of action for the state,” said Benson.