Federal Judge Tells Arizona Officials to ‘Take Position’ on Medical Marijuana Issue

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The fate of Arizona’s medical pot industry is still murky at this point, but some clarity might be on the horizon.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton told state lawyers that they have to take a position on medical marijuana, one way or the other, before she rules on a controversial lawsuit that will determine whether Arizona moves forward with its MMJ laws.

The lawyers, under the direction of Gov. Jan Brewer, sued the Justice Department earlier this year, demanding that the federal government clarify its stance towards states with medical marijuana laws. Arizona voters approved a measure to allow the cultivation, sale and use of medical marijuana, even though the drug is considered illegal federally. In filing the lawsuit, Brewer said she feared that state workers handling dispensary permits could be prosecuted – even though that hasn’t happened in any other state with MMJ laws.

But Arizona didn’t choose a side in the lawsuit. It simply asked for clarification.

The federal judge overseeing the case said that won’t fly, threatening to throw out the entire suit unless Arizona officially states its position on the issue. In other words, officials will have to decide whether the support the notion that state laws trump federal law in this case, or vice versa.

“That’s how lawsuits work,” the federal judge said, according to The Arizona Republic. “The plaintiff takes a position. I’m used to having the plaintiff opposed to the defendant. You’ve got to advocate for one or the other, and you’re not advocating for either.”

It’s difficult to predict how the state will respond. The governor lobbied against the MMJ law before voters approved it. And many pot proponents saw the lawsuit as a a veiled attempt to block the dispensary program entirely. Just as the state was scheduled to begin accepting applications for dispensaries, Brewer barred the state health department from processing them pending the outcome of the lawsuit. Arizona, however, is still doling out MMJ cards to qualifying patients.

Officially coming out against the law carries its own set of risks, as it could be seen as going against the will of the voters.

Would-be dispensary owners, who have been a holding pattern for most of the year, are furious. Last week, they asked a superior court judge to force Brewer to implement the state’s MMJ laws and lift the ban on the processing of dispensary applications. They argue that the governor has a duty to implement laws passed by the people, even if she opposes them.