Unexpected Ally for MMJ? Governor Rejects Request to Halt Arizona Medical Marijuana Program

My how the times have changed. Last summer, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer launched an assault on the state’s budding medical marijuana industry, putting the dispensary licensing program on hold and challenging it in court.

This summer, she is protecting it. Sorta.

After losing her initial battle to prevent cannabis centers from opening, Brewer has abandoned her attempts to dismantle the program and is now defending it as the first dispensaries prepare to launch. This week, she rejected a written request by more than a dozen county attorneys to put the dispensary and patient-licensing programs on ice. The county attorneys argue that state employees who work with the programs are at risk and warn that the federal government will likely shut down the dispensaries anyway, as in California.

The governor – a critic of the state’s MMJ laws – hasn’t had a change of heart on the issue of medical marijuana in general. Rather, she says it is her duty to follow the will of the people and implement the voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Brewer added that she’ll only change her stance if she receives a court order demanding a halt to the program (which she tried, and failed, to get).

Whatever her reasoning, the MMJ industry will take it. The fact that the governor has decided not to interfere again is encouraging, and the state remains on track to select the first round of dispensary finalists.

But new storm clouds could be gathering on the horizon. One county attorney said she’s been told the U.S. attorney for Arizona plans to prevent each and every dispensary from opening. That would be a major blow to medical marijuana efforts not only in Arizona but also around the country, as other states in the process of launching dispensaries could use a similar justification to halt their programs.

Perhaps that’s exactly what Brewer wants, as it would justify her earlier assault on Arizona’s dispensary program. But she’s unlikely to get even that, as a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office told the Arizona Republic that the federal government’s policies on MMJ in Arizona have not changed since February. That indicates dispensaries could open as planned.

2 comments on “Unexpected Ally for MMJ? Governor Rejects Request to Halt Arizona Medical Marijuana Program
  1. Spiderwoman on

    That’s quite a leap you made in that last paragraph. Do you even have a copy of what the U.S. Attorney said to Governor Brewer in February? If so, you can’t possibly think “that indicates dispensaries should open as planned.” The February 16, 2012 letter of the U.S. Attorney to Governor Brewer said, “The USAO will continue to vigorously enforce the Controlled Substances Act against individuals and entities that operate and facilitate large marijuana production facilities and marijuana production facilities involved in the cultivation, sale, and distribution of marijuana , even if purportedly for medical purposes.” The U.S. Attorney also said “state employees who conduct activities authorized by the . . . [“medical” marijuana act”] are not immune from liability under the CSA.” That seems to indicate dispensaries should NOT open.

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    • chrisw on

      It’s anyone’s guess what will happen anymore in this industry. But we don’t feel it’s as big of a leap as you think. The letter you reference is similar in nature to the ones sent to other states as well, including Colorado, where there are still some 650 dispensaries. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the government’s crackdown, but we haven’t seen U.S. attorneys in other new MMJ states shut dispensaries as they open. Thinking that the U.S. attorney is going to shut down each and every one as they open in Arizona seems to us like a bigger stretch, though of course anything is possible. The county attorney in Arizona (Polk) who said the dispensaries could be shut down didn’t even cite her source, and no one has said anything publicly that would back her claims. On the contrary, the U.S. Attorney’s Office even seemed to brush aside the idea:

      From the Arizona Republic: “U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Bill Solomon told The Arizona Republic late Monday that Polk’s representation of the U.S. attorney’s position on medical marijuana is inaccurate. He said the agency’s position has not changed since February, when then-Acting U.S. Attorney Ann Scheel told Brewer the agency would follow Department of Justice policy on the issue and would focus efforts on significant drug traffickers, not people who use marijuana as treatment.
      ‘Specifically, the Department of Justice is focusing its limited resources on significant drug traffickers, not seriously ill individuals and their caregivers who are in compliance with applicable state medical-marijuana statutes,’ Solomon wrote in a statement.”

      This is why we think dispensaries should open as scheduled in Arizona.

      Reply

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