Jan 182012

By Teri Walker–

Governor Jan Brewer has asked the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to begin processing medical marijuana dispensary applications.

Brewer took the action Friday after deciding not to re-file a lawsuit in federal court seeking clarification that state employees would not be subject to federal prosecution for implementing the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).

Brewer said she will ask ADHS to begin issuing licenses for dispensaries to begin operation once a legal challenge to the department’s medical marijuana rules is resolved.

“It is well-known that I did not support passage of Proposition 203, and I remain concerned about potential abuses of the law. But the state’s legal challenge was based on my legitimate concerns that state employees may find themselves at risk of federal prosecution for their role in administering dispensary licenses under this law,” said Brewer.

“Remember how we got to this point,” Brewer continued. “Arizona was fully implementing the provisions of Proposition 203 last spring. That’s when Arizona was among a host of states that received letters from the U.S. Department of Justice threatening potential legal ramifications for any individual participating in a medical marijuana program, even in states where it had been legally approved.

“Specifically, the Arizona letter warned that ‘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,’” said Brewer.

In spite of the strongly worded content, federal prosecutors have said they do not intend to go after employees implementing state laws; that instead, they are interested in major traffickers.

The Department of Justice letter content seems to be at odds with the prosecutors’ assertion, which still leaves Brewer and ADHS Director Will Humble worried.

“Last year, we asked the federal court to provide us with guidance regarding the obvious conflicts between the Arizona law and the federal Controlled Substances Act. The federal court’s refusal to address the issue left many unanswered questions regarding these conflicts,” said Humble.

Still, with no clarification of laws forthcoming, Brewer is moving forward with implementing the medical marijuana law.

“Our first step will be to review the rules for accepting dispensary applications,” said Humble.

The state’s rules called for accepting dispensary applications beginning last June, so ADHS is working on revising those rules and setting new application dates.

“We’re working on those rules right now. The process is complicated by the fact that a lawsuit called Compassion v. Arizona is challenging the scope and constitutionality of our medical marijuana rules,” said Humble. “If that lawsuit is withdrawn or settled quickly, we could begin accepting dispensary applications this summer.”

Brewer is proceeding cautiously with implementing the law. In her letter to the Department of Justice, she said, “I write to advise you that the State of Arizona will proceed with accepting and processing medical marijuana dispensary licenses once the legal challenge to (Arizona’s marijuana law) rules are resolved. I ask that you…provide the State of Arizona with clear guidance as to the Department of Justice’s enforcement position regarding state employees licensing and regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.

“If there are certain actions state employees should avoid, or specific licensing and regulatory activities that concern the Department of Justice, I ask that you communicate those concerns to me immediately,” Brewer wrote.

With the letter to the acting U.S. Attorney delivered, Brewer makes it clear she is willing to put the brakes on again if it appears state employees are at risk.

“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,” she warned.