Federal Judge Tosses Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Lawsuit, Putting Gov. on Hot Seat

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s aggressive attempts to bury the state’s medical cannabis dispensary program took a severe hit yesterday, resulting in a major win for the pro-MMJ crowd.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton dismissed a lawsuit filed last spring by the state questioning the legality of Arizona’s voter-approved medical pot laws. Officials said they feared that state workers involved in the dispensary licensing process could face prosecution because medical marijuana is still illegal federally.

Bolton, however, ruled that Arizona officials had failed to prove that state employees risk federal prosecution for helping regulate and license marijuana dispensaries. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia allow the use of medical marijuana, yet not one government employee has been prosecuted for participating in the regulation process. The judge also pointed out that the feds have not even threatened to prosecute government employees for abiding by state medical marijuana laws.

This is just the news the MMJ community in Arizona has been hoping for, and it’s a rare bright spot for the industry as a whole. Observers say it could pave the way for the launch of dispensaries in the state later this year.

The move puts the state in an awkward position, as it’s main justification for blocking the dispensary program doesn’t fly with a federal judge. It will be difficult for Brewer, therefore, to continue opposing the program.

The decision comes several weeks after Bolton threatened to throw out the case because the state did not take an official position on the matter, as it simply asked for clarification from the federal government. Shortly after, the state took the stance that Arizona’s MMJ laws conflict federal laws and therefore should not be implemented.

A spokesman for the state told the Arizona Republic that the federal court “punted on the issue,” adding that officials will weigh whether to file an appeal.

The state filed the lawsuit after Brewer put the breaks on the licensing program just before it was to begin, saying that the fate of the MMJ program depended on the outcome of the case.